Worrying news emerged this month when one of Brighton’s best-loved music pubs, The Prince Albert, announced it is fighting a planning application that threatens the future of the venue.
The story bounced around social media as people scrambled to lodge an objection before the deadline closed at midnight. Details were scant and it felt like the clock was ticking, but the news spread fast. Some reported that they were unable to register, while others claimed the council’s slightly creaky website had crashed due to the sheer volume of visitors. Nevertheless, when midnight struck on December 7th, over a thousand people had put in an objection.
But why were so many people worried about a commercial development replacing a shabby old garage? And why did the venue only post about it with six hours to go? SOURCE dug into the files and spoke to venue manager, Will Moore, to find out what was going on.
In August, a planning application was submitted to the council to demolish the old Thrifty Car Rental building next to The Prince Albert and replace it with a four storey development, comprised of nine commercial units along with two holiday lets on the top floor. It’s these that are cause for concern; when you have people trying to sleep next door to a drum kit it’s unlikely to end well. As one anonymous objector put it, “More flats, more noise complaints, another venue lost… this cannot happen!”
“Obviously, it’s all very worrying,” says Will, who has worked at the Trafalgar Street venue since 2001. “No matter what they say, it’s inevitable those units they’re applying for will end up as residential. Once you’ve got permission, it’s very easy to change the use. You don’t need planning permission for that.”
The news about the Albert came only weeks after Manchester’s Night & Day Café was served with a Noise Abatement Notice following a complaint made by a neighbour who moved in during lockdown. Closer to home, many gig-goers still lament the closure of The Freebutt in 2010 and The Blind Tiger in 2014, both of which fell foul of noise complaints. Additionally, when Sticky Mike’s closed in 2018 it was reportedly going to be replaced by a hotel. (Superstitious readers may spot a pattern here which suggests Brighton is due to lose an established music venue every four years…)
Anyway, Will says the size of the proposed building is also a problem, as it will block a lot of natural light and the venue would lose the window at the top of the stairs. But the main issue is noise.
Back in the summer, a company called Acoustic Associates Sussex Ltd were appointed by the developers to conduct a noise impact assessment which basically involved sticking a microphone outside the garage, recording a bunch of gigs, and producing a bewildering array of graphs. These ambient recordings were made at the start of July and featured performances by the likes of Sick Joy, Tabula Rasa and Spang Sisters. Little did these bands know that the fate of the venue was being decided while they were rocking out on stage. Ultimately, the assessment concluded that noise from the venue wouldn’t be a problem as long as suitable soundproofing was put in place.
Will disagrees. “Even if they build it to the soundproofing standards, the residents could still complain about the people outside. Maybe they don’t want a beer garden, or they don’t want people out front. It doesn’t bode well. The light will be rather a problem, but when you’ve got people outside they might say everyone has to be in by 5pm or something daft. Which would be awful.”
He’s not alone. The Music Venue Trust, which has been at the forefront of many recent campaigns to protect music venues, has called the proposal “fundamentally flawed”. The music charity lodged an early objection which insisted that “the application must be refused in its current form”.
The Prince Albert is a Grade II listed building that was built as a townhouse in 1848 and converted to its current form in 1860. Ironically, the pub once served as a hotel for visitors arriving by railway, while the plot next door is thought to have originally been the site of a coach house. The mural on the outside of the pub went up in 2013 with loads more faces added in 2017. Before that, of course, the wall hosted a famous image of Kissing Coppers painted in 2004 by an up-and-coming artist named Banksy.
But the place is much more than an iconic facade. Scroll down the planning objections and you’ll see that the goodwill that flooded the council website was all about the music. The venue hosts gigs almost every night of the week; it’s the home of countless local acts and a popular destination for touring bands. In the last month alone SOURCE has been there to review acts such as Hutch, John Moods and Aoife Nessa Frances. It’s one of our favourite venues.
Unfortunately, the planning issue wasn’t the only bad news for the Albert this month. Only a few days before, we were saddened to hear about the death of Steve the soundman, who had worked at the venue for over 20 years.
“That was such a shock,” says Will. “Steve did our sound on the Saturday night. I had a pint with him on the Sunday, and on the Monday he went to work at his other job as a driver. He pulled over, wasn’t feeling very well and managed to get out of the car. And that was it. We’re presuming it’s a heart attack. A member of the public apparently attempted CPR, but that’s all we know. The weirdest thing is nobody really knows anything about Steve. He might be an eccentric millionaire for all we know! It’s not as if he wasn’t talkative, he just never said anything about his private life ever. Music was his life. If it wasn’t something to do with sound he wasn’t really interested.”
As it happens, Steve worked next door at Thrifty Car Rental until the company relocated six months ago. But before that he’d been a sound engineer at Brighton venues for almost four decades. Many of the bands who grew up on the local scene will surely remember Steve and his no-nonsense approach to running a gig.
“He’s very well thought of,” says Will. “But he was an objectionable cantankerous bugger! He didn’t suffer fools. Which is fair enough, he’d been doing it for so long. When I first moved to Brighton in ’87 he was doing the sound at The Richmond. And then when we left there in ‘92 he came with me to The Freebutt. And when I left The Freebutt in 2001, he came up here with me. So we’ve been working together for a long, long time. It’s mad really. If it turns out he doesn’t have any family, we’re the next port of call. We’ll have a massive wake definitely. We’ll give him a good send off.”
Despite all that’s happened, Will seems optimistic about the future. But why did he leave it until the last possible moment to publicise the planning issue?
“Haha, I was on holiday for the first time in years and I come back and it’s like ‘oh bugger!’. Actually, I was speaking to a councillor at a meeting about this and I was reminded that we’d only got one day left! But we haven’t been messing about. We’d already employed people months ago to be on the case. Actually, I think it worked extremely well, to have that amount of people register to object in that short length of time. I think it may have trickled along, but this made a really big impact.”
“We’ve got a professional company working on our behalf. They’ve put in an objection. The Music Venue Trust has put in an objection. Around 1,200 people have put in objections. We’re doing well. And Caroline Lucas has got involved, which is quite something. It’s not bad. It’s a good start. But it would be catastrophic if they start putting people in there. It wouldn’t bode well, no matter what they say.”
A decision on the planning application will be made at a council meeting sometime early next year. Despite the deadline having officially passed, objections can still be posted on the council website here.
(Lead photo by Jon Southcoasting)