Last month London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan pledged to follow Amsterdam in creating a Night Mayor – or, in London’s case, no doubt to avoid the endless punning that a “Night Mayor” would bring, a Night Tsar.
This new role represents a welcome response to concerns about the pressures on London’s night-time entertainment sector. Bars, clubs and music venues make an important contribution to the capital: they are a vital part of the London economy.
If young, creative people move to London in great numbers it’s partly because of what goes on it in it after dark. If tourists come to London in ever greater numbers – the capital is now the most visited city on earth – it’s to visit the British Museum and Tate Modern, Oxford Street and Buckingham Palace, but also to go to shows and to drink, dance and talk till dawn.
But the value of London’s late night bars and clubs goes well beyond their narrow economic contribution. They are an important proving ground for artists and musicians and for London’s creativity more generally. The student band performing in a grotty basement bar today could be starring at the O2 in a decade. The comedian doing stand-up in pub could become a leading star of stage and screen.
Yet, London’s night time sector is under real pressure. As Shain Shapiro wrote in the recent culture issue of the London Essays, London’s night clubs are a fast-declining species. High rents, nimbyism among residents and over zealous policing are leading to the closure of music and performance spaces across the city.
A Night Tsar working out of City Hall will be able to help in any number of ways. They could work with planners, to make sure that the value of late night venues are recognised in the planning process; or encourage developers to protect existing venues and provide new ones. They could work with licensing authorities to make sure that that residents who move into an area with late night venues aren’t then allowed to close them down. They could work with the police to ensure that they recognise the value of London’s entertainment industry and don’t bear down on it too hard.
But it’s important that the Night Tsar’s remit is not defined too narrowly. Yes, we need someone to champion late night fun and creativity. But London is a busy, fast growing, global city which will inevitably become an increasingly 24 hour place. So the Night Tsar will need to concern his or herself with helping London in that process.
Here are just a few examples of issues a Night Tsar could tackle.
Congestion is a big and growing problem for the capital. Part of the answer has to lie in making better use of the road system at night, when it is relatively empty.
In the past councils and residents have object to night time deliveries because of the noise they can involve, but with good management and new technology, noise does not have to be an issue. So the Night Tsar will have to promote and oversee a shift in the way businesses use the roads network and promote more night deliveries.
London already has a moderately effective night bus service, but it has been slow to introduce a 24 hour Tube. The night Tsar will want to review all aspects of night time public transport, and ensure it continues to meet the needs not just of late night revellers but the night time economy more generally.
One idea, advanced by Brian Paddick, Lib Dem Mayoral candidate in 2008, was that women would have a right to ask bus drivers to drop them off at any point on a route after dark, rather than just at bus stops. This feels like the sort of thing a night Tsar should be championing.
The rights and welfare of night workers
As London becomes more of a 24 hour city, so more and more of us will work at night. Yet research indicates that night work can take a heavy toll on physical and mental health, as well as on family life.
A Night Tsar will have will need to be a champion of the rights and welfare of night workers. Perhaps we need new London-wide standards for night work or even a distinct minimum wage for people who have to work unsociable hours.
All mayors run on a promise to make London a greener, more sustainable city. But their interest in the environment seems to wane at night: look out at the City of London and Canary Wharf at night, and you will see a city ablaze with light.
This is wasteful. But it is also polluting. London is no place for anyone who likes to look at the stars at night. A Night Tsar should commit to reducing light pollution in the capital.
In the past London after dusk was a domestic, sleepy place. But that is changing – and as it changes, so the authorities that run the city will have to wake up and get involved.
Ben Rogers is the director of the Centre for London.
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