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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 music fan, and planning guru, Simon Ricketts.

Simon Ricketts most recent photo. Interview for house music 7 interview

Simon is a music afficionado, an advocate of grassroots music venues, an avid blogger and a pretty good planning lawyer. Planning Magazine has put him at the top of the planning tree for the last 11 years. But life could have been very different for a young guitarist aiming for the top:

Simon Ricketts most recent photo. Interview for house music 7 interview photo number 2 Simon Ricketts most recent photo. Interview for house music 7 interview photo number 3

 

Simon co-founded his firm Town Legal in 2016, having cut his teeth at SJ Berwin and then King & Wood Mallesons.  Interested in how Simon can segue from Showaddywaddy to Sting, then on to Sprints and Spandau Ballet, via headlines in The Sun?  And that’s before we get onto his beef with Network Rail…  Let’s dive in:

Note: This interview is from early June, before the election shenanigans really kicked off.

Mark: What is your favourite venue for live music?

Simon: I really like Lafayette – a small new venue that is part of Argent’s Kings Cross redevelopment. And the gigs there finish really early – a bonus these days.

Mark: What is the most entertaining and memorable inquiry or hearing you have taken part in?

Simon: There was that planning committee meeting in Kensington town hall a few years ago where the world’s greatest living rock guitarist read out a statement objecting to his neighbour’s subterranean development proposal – his voice almost drowned out by the constant sound of clicking cameras from paparazzi all crouched in a line behind the committee. This is my only case to have been reported in Led Zep News.

Or there was the judicial review we brought back in 2000 for some Wiltshire residents, including one Sting, in relation to RAF Boscombe Down. The Sun had a perfect headline: Don’t Land So Close To Me…

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

Simon: If you disregard the real baby stuff – Showaddywaddy, Darts – I take day one, young mind blown, to be the Boomtown Rats at what was the Southampton Gaumont – 27 October 1978.

Most recent was Barry Adamson (ex-Magazine etc) last month at the Jazz Café in Camden.

Mark: If you could require one landowner in the UK to do more to facilitate housing growth in the UK, which landowner would it be?

Simon: Network Rail. Its policy of seeking to “ransom” development, sorry seeking “shared value”, in return for granting developers access rights over its property, should be regarded as directly contrary to public policy.   

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

Simon: Let’s subvert: I would either like to see Beyoncé at the 100 Club in Oxford Street, supported by Raye, both with full orchestra (meaning probably only room for me and a guest in the audience) – or I would like to see Sprints headline at the O2, supported by fellow Irish punk/Indie band The Murder Capital, tickets £25 a pop. 

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

Simon: I’m probably most proud of my role in helping to develop, in planning law terms, the co-living concept in London, first for The Collective at Old Oak Common and elsewhere and more recently for a range of other operators – all young, creative and passionate about creating communities. If I had my 20s again, there would have been no grotty flat-shares for me – I would be in a co-living development with a view of Wembley stadium and every facility on tap.

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

Simon: It doesn’t have to be this way” by the Blow Monkeys. Probably not “They sold my home to build a skyscraper” by Gruff Rhys.

Mark: What one change would you like to see made to the planning application process?  

Simon: One? One?? OK – indicative word limits for each category of supporting document.

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

Simon: Big Star’s Radio City. Those chiming guitars, the sadness…

Mark: You are appointed the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for one week.  You are given the power to make immediate legislative changes in order to ensure more houses are built.  What is the first change you would make?

Simon: I would resist the knee jerk inclination to legislate at all – other than perhaps to allow for the Planning Inspectorate to charge for appeals (same rate as for applications – payable by losing party) and I would simply reissue a revised National Planning Policy Framework with much more prescription as to what will and will not be supported.

Mark: What is the furthest you’ve travelled to see live music?

Simon: A trip by National Express coach from Southampton to see Spandau Ballet at the Newcastle City Hall on 19 April 1983.True! (NB can you say “National Express” without bursting into song? I find it difficult.) Much lazier now.

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

Simon: The ratio of planning lawyers to the number of homes and sq m of commercial floorspace being built is in my view a useful indicator of how unnecessarily complex the planning system is at any time. My firm in the City has over 30 specialist planning solicitors at all levels [Editor: other top quality planning lawyers are available 😊 ]. When I started practice in the late 80s I’m not sure there was that number in the whole of the Square Mile. I’m not saying reduce the number by the way (colleagues may read this)… I’m saying let’s lower that ratio by simplifying the system, thereby reducing the amount of “lawyering” each project needs – and increasing the amount of what actually gets built! 

Many thanks to Simon 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.

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