A planning application made by local business Angola ’76 has broadly divided opinion between Shaftesbury locals who value the live music venue and residents who object to noise disturbance.
Owner John Morgan told ThisIsAlfred that he is confident that his plans will be approved, but one of the residents objecting to the proposals is urging Angola ‘76’s owner to reach a compromise.
North Dorset District Council’s deadline for public comments on the planning application was Monday and 70 responses have been posted on their website. There were 22 objections and twice as many people supported John Morgan’s application.
“After nearly three years of owning Angola ‘76 and having sunk my life savings into it, my aim was never to antagonise neighbours,” said John, speaking on Skype from South Africa, where he lives for part of the year. “It was to provide a really first class, international-standard community venue and I have to say, if this was in France, I’d be receiving tax breaks and subsidies.”
John is clearly proud of his venue and the role it plays in promoting live music. “Over 200 different musicians that have played at Angola ‘76 over the last couple of years and if you include the Fringe, it must be double that number,” he said. Many of his comments of support on North Dorset Council’s website have backed Angola ‘76’s role in the local arts scene.
John summarised his application. “For the last eight years, we’ve had a café and bar on site. For the first five years it was a vegetarian café, ‘Beggar’s Banquet’. That demonstrated that there was an appetite for a community venue or hub. When Beggars Banquet closed, I was left with a choice of attempting to turn the place into a residence, which would have required change of use, or continue with it as a venue. I wanted to improve the bar and alter it, so that required a change of use,” he said.
John said he wants to ‘get a better and bigger bar’. That requires both ‘retrospective’ permission for the work that’s already been done, and he’s applying for consent for a new development. “We want to cover over the majority of the yard and create a double vestibule across the frontage, so that any sound that bleeds out of the premises is kept to an absolute minimum.”
Noise is the issue and some neighbours have complained. I asked John whether he could appreciate the concerns of people living nearby. “I can, because not everybody is keen on having a really good music hub in their area,” said John. “I think if I was in that position, I would have chosen not to live in a town which throws up all sorts of possibilities, including interesting venues like ours.”
John says that his business is highly regulated. “It’s not possible just to open somewhere and get licensing unless you do things properly and follow all the protocols.” And he says that if the venue was noisy, he would not have opened it next door to his family home. “For the last three years my wife and our two young children have been living literally seven meters away from the main performance venue. I notice some of the complaints are from people several hundred meters away and also from outside the county. I think a certain amount of hysteria has gone into this,” he said.
Christopher Price has written to object to the plans. He repeatedly stated that he recognises Angola ‘76’s popularity, but he has been disturbed when patrons leave late at night.
“I think the concept is a good one. I like it. It’s just in the wrong place. It’s a conserved area. It is a residential area. I know what the owner wants to do, and I applaud these efforts. This is business but it doesn’t satisfy the residents and we’re not very happy about that,” said Christopher. He understands that people may accuse him of ‘nimbyism’. “It probably is. I live on Bell Street,” he adds.
Some residents have objected to Angola ‘76’s plans by writing a graphic description of drunken and rowdy behaviour in the streets during the small hours. “I’m sure some people that leave our premises do make noise and, in fact, I’ve gone after people and urged them to disperse quietly and to respect our neighbours,” said John Morgan. “It generally works but we can’t guarantee it and no place can. I can promise that we go as far as we possibly can to make sure that happens.”
Some response on the North Dorset Council planning website refers to broken glass, piss and vomit. “I’ll refer those people to my earlier comment. My children are on site and I would be as reluctant to have piss and vomit on my premises as anybody would be on their own front lawn or driveway,” said John.
I asked Christopher how he could make a connection between noise and Angola ‘76. “I didn’t make a habit of wandering around the streets at two in the morning but when I hear the noise, I went out there. They said, ‘We have been in Angola’.”
Mr Price accepts that the bar is not responsible for all of the rowdy revellers but he does think that they are open too late at the weekend. “I think it is exacerbated by the two o’clock extension. My concern is mostly about Fridays and Saturdays,” said Christopher. “Normally, the rest of the week is not that bad. People go home at eleven o’clock. They are chatting away, there’s a bit of laughter and I don’t mind that. It’s when you get these raucous noises, urinating, being sick and bottles everywhere. It doesn’t happen every week but it does happen quite a lot.”
Christopher suggests a compromise. He wants Angola ‘76 to close earlier. I put that idea to John. “Chris has hit on a really good point there and I’m glad I got the opportunity to discuss that,” John responded. “We have live music twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays. Everybody that plays there gets paid properly. We don’t pay them rock star wages but they certainly get well looked after, which is why our acts come back.”
John says a performer has described his bar as ‘an ethical venue’ because musicians are paid. “On a Thursday and Sunday in Shaftesbury, in February or in November, it’s not very busy and we lose money. If these musicians are getting a proper wage then that’s an awful lot of extra pints you’ve got to shift.”
John says the busier weekend events subsidise the live music. “We have DJs on Fridays and Saturdays which aren’t as expensive as a band. That enables us to channel the revenue so that we can put that back into live music, so that we try and break even on the performance side,” said John.
Christopher says he is not affected by music escaping from the venue where he lives, but he says that he knows people living closer to the café bar who have complained. John Morgan says he has hired an expert to provide noise-damping solutions for his planning application.
“I have employed an acoustician. That required £1,500 worth of investment. He was tasked to identify whether we could mitigate and counter every point and once he had said ‘Yes, I can’, I commissioned him to write a report and address every single element. We would expect to have no grounds for complaint from the environmental health people,” he said.
John explained how he believes he can prevent noise bleeding out of the bar. “The frontage has large metal gates at the moment. We’re going to bring it back to where it was two years ago, to the edge of Muston’s Lane. We’ll create a large porch or vestibule. Customers will arrive through the first set of doors. Those doors will then close. They will be faced with a set of doors, which take them either into the yard, or they can turn left into the existing doors. Whenever any doors are open from the front, then that sound will be contained,” he said.
John’s plans will see the yard covered, in another move which he hopes will contain sound. “The only outdoors area will be around the back, where have a smokers’ garden which is available for those without drinks after eleven o’clock. It is monitored by a member of staff who stays out there at all times to make sure there’s no noise and that people don’t take drinks out,” said John.
But the Council’s Environmental Health Officer has recommended that the planning application is refused, because of noise concerns. He wrote that covering the courtyard could encourage people to go outside onto Muston’s Lane.
John disagrees. “In two-and-a-half years I’ve spent many hours on the door greeting people. The only time people have wanted to go outside for a cigarette was if they didn’t realise that we had a lit, heated and covered smoking area around the back garden,” said John.
North Dorset District Council has not yet set a date for deciding the Angola ’76 application but they will have the final say. Shaftesbury Town Council has already approved the application and John Morgan is thankful that they had ‘foresight’.
“I’m concerned that the Town Council talk about the economic benefits rather glibly,” said Christopher. “What they haven’t done, as far as I can see, is support their statement with facts. I’m not aware of any cost-benefit analysis and why they think economic benefits should be assumed to override the social disadvantages of the application.”
John argues that his payroll can provide economic evidence. “We employ ten regular and local members of staff. Plus there’s the dozen or so paid performances that come to Angola ‘76 each week,” he said.
“You can ask the parents of the young children who enjoy the relaxed afternoons or the early evening atmosphere,” John continued. “And also the people who are well into retirement who support the jazz events. Then there’s the twenty-somethings, who take considerable pride in their town having a decent venue and keeping their money in the community. They don’t have to whizz off to other towns on taxi journeys and spend their money elsewhere.”
John doesn’t expect North Dorset councillors to turn down his proposal. “It would indicate a degree of small mindedness that I have not experienced any anywhere else,” he said.
So what if they do say ‘no’? “I will have to cross that bridge when it comes to it. But I’m extremely confident that having gone through every single loophole that requires me to deal with the acoustic concerns, to deal with the dispersal policies, to deal with the management side, that I have ticked every box that is required,” he said.
“The people who love our venue, the arts in general and live music deserve to have this sort of thing in their town,” he said. So if the plans are refused, would live music at Angola ‘76 end? “What can we do?” asks John. “We’re a venue. That’s what we set out to be. Shaftesbury has got some excellent pubs. We don’t want to compete with them,” he explained.
Mr Morgan says he’s disappointed that new managers Andy and Sally Francis have been receiving some unpleasant comments during the planning row. Christopher makes it clear that he has no personal issue with either John or the new managers. “I know they ran the Two Brewers and I’ve been there. I wish them well, of course, it’s a business for them. I don’t want them to lose out in that respect.”
But Christopher would like the management to meet locals half way. “There’s got to be a compromise. If you’re going to have the music, we have got to temper it somehow. And somehow we have got to police the way people leave and that’s the tricky one. There is no tidy solution to this but we can’t just get away with saying ‘it’s good for the economy’.” Said Christopher.
John finishes our chat by returning to our town’s economy. He thinks that Angola ’76 plays an important part in ensuring that our town remains vibrant. “This isn’t like the mid-1960s. This is the 21st century and people expect really good, first class entertainment in their town, if it is to succeed and thrive and to be taken seriously. Otherwise they will be living in a place that’s full of charity shops and boarded up windows,” said John.