When an American tourist was asked whether they enjoyed their visit to Windsor Castle, so the joke goes, they replied: “Yes, but why have they built such a lovely place so close to a noisy airport?”
I haven’t dug up this humorous tale in a desire to question the intellect of US citizens but because it reminds me of the situation many pubs find themselves in when they are threatened with noise abatement notices by neighbours.
If you’re sensitive to noise, surely the best thing is to avoid renting or buying a home anywhere near a pub. I love pubs significantly more than the vast majority of the population but would I choose to live close to one? No chance, because I also love a good night’s sleep (especially after I’ve visited the pub).
However, it appears not everyone follows such a rule and some rather blindly, or drunkenly perhaps, find themselves living near a pub and, upset by noise, threaten the landlord with licence restrictions. Such complaints are on the rise – no doubt helped by the Licensing Act of 2003 that brought in regulations in 2007 that gave residents much more power to object to a pub’s licence.
I first became aware of how much of an issue this can be when talking to the worried owners of The Rake bar in Borough Market some years ago. They had been trading for years with no problems until someone moved into the flats opposite and started complaining about the noise. The pub was threatened with a ban on all drinking outside the pub, which would have been the death knell for the business such is its tiny interior. The vast bulk of the pub’s revenues derive from outdoor drinkers and the resident clearly should have carried out more reconnaissance before moving into the flat.
Pubs specialising in live music have also had a tough time with many facing a ban on gigs, which would remove their USP in a single stroke and put their businesses under severe pressure. The King’s Head in Llandudno is in the midst of fighting its case to continue with long-standing live music events.
Dan Fox, who operates three London pubs, makes great efforts to manage his venues with the neighbours in mind. He has meetings with them ahead of any live music event, occasionally invites them into the pub for drinks and ensures they all have his mobile number if any concerns need addressing.
Although two of Fox’s pubs have residential properties above, the fact they are owned by the same landlord as the boozer removes certain problems. They are only let on six-month contracts so people aren’t locked in indefinitely if they are unhappy, while high-quality soundproofing has been installed. The landlord wants all his pub and residential tenants to be happy.
Problems occur, however, when property developers sell the flats and, having little interest in running the pub below, fail to get planning permission to convert it to residential. Fox suggests they will have invariably cut corners on soundproofing and be indifferent to creating harmony between pub management and disgruntled homeowners above.
If you think the most sensible thing is to forget all about engaging in noisy activities such as live music and focus on the quieter things in life, such as food, think again. A landlord I know has a pub on the outskirts of London with a neighbour on one side who complains the extractor fan needs to be used at full throttle to more effectively remove smells, while the neighbour on the other side complains the fan is far too noisy and should be used only sparingly. In the current circumstances, perhaps throttle isn’t the best word to use. Then again, he could always opt for the quiet life and move to Windsor?
Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider
This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Beer Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.