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My name is Mark Benham, I’m head of Real Estate at Lester Aldridge.  I advise regional and national housebuilders (and the occasional landowner) on land promotion, acquisition and development, including advising providers of later living housing and housing with care.  Outside of work, my passion is music – whether it’s watching a new live act at a small local venue, enjoying music new and old on BBC 6 Music or compiling a playlist on Spotify to share with friends and colleagues.

There is a clear synergy between community assets, including live music venues, and the creation of new housing.  In July 2023, Joanna Averley, chief planner at The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, reminded the planning authorities that they “have an important role in identifying and protecting local grassroots music venues in their area from the effects of new development”, referring them to the requirements in the NPPF regarding the provision of suitable mitigation measures.  She also flagged how the Music Venue Trust (which describes itself as being like the National Trust of music venues) can offer support to planning authorities when consulting on applications.

Independent music venues are the lifeblood of the music industry here in the UK, breathing life into our towns and cities as part of the “night-time economy”.  Sadly, 2023 was the UK’s worst year for music venue closures, according to the Music Venue Trust, with 125 grassroots music venues closing over 12 months.  Without Government support, the sad reality is that the number of venues will continue to shrink.

Our next guest is heritage expert, and indie connoisseur, Gail Stoten.

    GAIL AND HER FRIENDS. HOUSE MUSIC ARTICLE MARK BENHAM

Gail leads a team of heritage consultants at Pegasus Group, who she joined in 2015.  Her team provides advice and assessments for planning applications for developments involving historic buildings, townscapes and landscapes, and archaeology.

Gail is a member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists and has a first-class honours degree in archaeology. She is also a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. You will frequently find her as an expert witness at public inquiries.  Let’s put Gail on the stand and find out about her musical heritage.

Mark: What is your favourite venue for live music?

Gail: So hard to choose. There are many favourites of the time – the drippy-ceilinged Northampton Roadmenders when I was growing up in Rugby, and Rock City/The Rig in Nottingham, which was a large part of my choice for where to go to university.

 Now it’s probably Alexandra Palace in London. It has a brilliant indoor space where Pixies may have done some permanent damage to my hearing a few years ago, and it’s a great venue for outside summer gigs, where I saw Primal Scream sitting on the baked grass with a backdrop of views to the city.

 It was even good during Covid – Nick Cave’s really beautiful unplugged live album, Idiot Prayer, was recorded in the empty hall at Alexandra Palace there during lockdown – just him and a piano. I have a big soft spot for unplugged sessions – even as a grungy teenager I listened to Unplugged in New York more than Nevermind.

Mark: What was the first, and most recent, music gig/concert that you attended?

Gail:  I think the first proper concert I went to was Brian May at Birmingham NEC in 1993, but the first jumping-around gig I went to was The Levellers at Aston Villa Leisure Centre in 1995.

The most recent one was The Orb doing a very chilled out set at the Sub Rooms in Stroud, but it may be that by the time this goes on the internet, we’ll have been to see the definitely-not-chilled-out Big Special at Birmingham XOYO.

Mark: Do you have a favourite, and a least favourite, Grade II* listed building?

That’s really hard as most Listed buildings are Grade II and the most significant are Grade I. To answer this, I searched Grade II* Listed pubs. My favourite is the Black Swan in York – like drinking in an MR James short story. My least favourite is the Ship Inn in Fowey, but only because I’ve never managed to get a table in there – I’m sure it’s a lovely place to have a pint.

Mark: What band or artist is your dream headline act, who would be the support act and where would the gig be?

Gail: The legendary KLF who I would love, love, love to have seen, supported by Alabama 3 (including the late Reverend D Wayne Love) with an opening set by Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Mark: What housing scheme or project that you have been involved in are you the proudest of?

Gail: Probably a scheme in Bramley in Hampshire, which was the right scheme for the location, developed with heritage and landscape input early on to respect the setting of the Conservation Area and Listed buildings, and with the project culminating in a challenging PI.

Mark: If you could sum up the state of housebuilding in the UK by reference to a song, what song would it be?

Gail: Do You Remember The First Time (York Tried to Adopt a Local Plan) by Pulp? Ain’t Good Enough for You by Bruce Springsteen?

Not quite the question, but the song I think best sums up the need for more housing is Sabotage by the Beastie Boys – not for the title, but for the fact most people have a strong opinion on it when it is played, ranging from extreme negativity to deep appreciation. Also, the undecipherable lyrics might stand for my understanding of Objectively Assessed Need/Housing Land Supply calculations.

Mark: Tell me something about your job that people are unlikely to know.

Gail: You have to have a mind like an etch-a-sketch – fill it full of obscure knowledge about Listed Victorian reservoirs, Neolithic causewayed enclosures, Picturesque parkland, or extracts from Evelyn Waugh’s Diaries, then forget it all and move on and obsess over the next case. I have an extensive ‘single use’ bookshelf at work for all the really niche sources I’ve bought from AbeBooks.

Mark: What is your favourite album?  Name the first that comes into your mind.

Gail: Screamadelica by Primal Scream. Nailed-on classic.

Mark: What do you perceive as the most significant current challenge in balancing the preservation of cultural heritage with the need for new housing in the UK?

Gail: It’s always setting. Luckily, very few large-scale housing schemes involve proposed demolition or even significant changes to fabric of Listed buildings (or Scheduled monuments, etc), but if you want to build houses in a sustainable location, you’re never that far from at least one Listed house, pub or church. With harm to Listed buildings, including through changes to setting, having considerable importance and weight in the planning balance, this is the issue I deal with most at appeals. Setting is what I like assessing, though, and one day I may even finish my PhD on it, if I spend a bit less of my free time going to gigs.

Many thanks to Gail for joining us. Our next episode will be landing next month – sign up to be notified when episodes are published here.

If you need further advice about any of your real estate requirements, please contact Mark via email at mark.benham@la-law.com.