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August 19, 2016updated 29 Jul 2021 10:51am

London's night life is in trouble – and the night tube won't save it

By Mark Wilding

Today marks the launch of London’s night tube, a 24-hour service which will transport clubbers and workers alike in and out of the city through the day and night.

Many people had hoped the service could breathe new life into the city’s beleaguered late-night venues. They included London mayor Sadiq Khan, who has said the project will be “invaluable in helping to save London’s nightlife”.

But problems currently facing several of the city’s nightclubs suggest that more than a transport upgrade will be required. Just over a week ago, London superclub Fabric announced it would be closing while an investigation took place into the deaths of two young men at the venue in the space of just nine weeks.

This was not the first time that Fabric had run into problems. The club avoided closure in 2014 when it agreed to licensing conditions including sniffer dogs and ID scanners, after four drug-related deaths at the venue in three years. A subsequent appeal overturned this ruling and the club operated without incident for two years, until the tragic events of recent weeks.

In the wake of these, the Met called for Fabric’s license to be reviewed; Islington Council agreed. The club has remained closed since. A hearing to discuss its future will take place in September.

Fabric is far from the only London venue in trouble. Dalston nightclub Dance Tunnel was forced to close earlier this month, citing an inability to secure a late enough licence to make the business viable. Just down the road, arts and music venue Passing Clouds was evicted this week after its building was acquired by a developer who is alleged to have offered a new lease then decided to convert the site into offices. Last month, Shapes in Hackney Wick shut down. The club’s owner said he could not secure a permanent licence.

Alan Miller, chair of the Night Time Industries Association, says: “It’s brilliant news we’ve finally got the night tube.” But he adds: “It’s sadly ironic it coincides with not just Passing Clouds, Dance Tunnel and Shapes closing, but also the suspension of Fabric’s licence.”

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In Miller’s view, Fabric has some of the highest professional standards in the industry yet risks being punished for a tragedy believed to be linked to drugs – a problem that society should share.

Khan has made several pledges which he hopes will help protect London’s nightlife. He has promised to appoint a ‘night czar’ who can fight on behalf of late-night venues. He has said he will make changes to the London Plan to safeguard venues from redevelopment.

Steps such as these take time. Since the news broke about Fabric, DJs and patrons of the club have called on him to step in – but the decision lies with Islington Council. Khan has called for a solution which “protects clubbers’ safety and the future of the club”. There may be little more he can do.

And so, as late-night venues close down and the fate of one of London’s best known clubs hangs in the balance, the night tube will make its debut. Khan may have hoped it would buy him some time. But for the man who promised he would “save London’s iconic club scene”, it looks unlikely to be enough.

Mark Wilding tweets as @mark_wilding.

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