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Judge reaches verdict on future of iconic Northern Quarter venue

Night & Day Cafe is to remain open
Night & Day Cafe

Common sense has prevailed in one of the longest running, completely ridiculous sagas to grab the headlines in recent years.

Despite a judge upholding a noise abatement notice against the club, iconic Northern Quarter venue Night and Day Cafe will continue to operate as a nightclub.

Night & Day Cafe – what was the complaint about?

Night and Day has operated for more than thirty years and has hosted early gigs by bands such as Elbow, Arctic Monkeys and Wet Leg.

But it faced an uncertain future after Manchester City Council served a noise nuisance notice on it in November 2021 following complaints from a neighbour.

Issues began when a resident moved into an apartment next door to the venue during lockdown, when businesses in the Northern Quarter were shut down and quiet.

When Night & Day reopened and began trading as it had done for the previous three decades, a noise complaint was made by this resident.

This sparked a lengthy legal battle, costing roughly £160,000, which concluded today.

The music community united behind Night & Day, with Elbow lead singer Guy Garvey saying Manchester risked losing a “vital organ of culture” if Night & Day cafe was forced to close.

Following four rounds of hearings which concluded in January, District Judge Margaret McCormack revealed her ruling in a hearing at Manchester Magistrates’ court today.

She found that a nuisance was being caused by the DJ club nights that run from 11pm to 3am on Friday and Saturday nights.

What did the Judge say?

This was because the use of the flat next door was ‘common and ordinary’, but the nightclub operation of Night and Day was not, she ruled.

DJ McCormack said that the Northern Quarter is a ‘lively, vibrant’ area, but as Manchester is evolving, its ‘usages are changing’. In other words, the area can now be considered mixed-use.

The notice filed against Night & Day was based on a single noise complaint from a flat that is no longer occupied.

The venue argues that the flat was built – and planning permission approved – without sound proofing, despite the knowledge that the venue could cause issues once occupants moved in.

However, they note, the complaint that led to the notice was the only one that had ever been filed since the property was built in 2000.

“In an ideal world, a balance would be able to be struck in the ability of the resident to enjoy their property and the venue to operate as a going concern. Sadly, due to a faulty party wall this is not possible,” DJ McCormack said in making her ruling.

Having found that a nuisance was being caused, the judge then said her remaining two options were to either dismiss the appeal or vary the notice. She opted for the latter.

And the variation chosen was ‘test profile one’, which is a set of restrictions designed by Peter Rogers, the expert appointed by Night and Day. Previously, venue owners said that profile would limit 56 percent of events, but allow it still to operate.

The judge continued: “I am satisfied that [test profile one] is a reasonable, practicable level which could be offered by sealed sound limiters to seal music levels. I am told the existing sound system can achieve this aim.

“I therefore amend the NAN [to say] Friday and Saturday use should not exceed the levels of test one.

The measures are to be taken by professional acousticians and sealed in the system.”

‘Sealed in the system’ means the noise limiters cannot be tampered with by sound engineers on-the-ground.

The venue now has 28 days to make the required changes.

What did the council have to say?

A Manchester City Council spokesperson said: “We are glad that this case has reached a conclusion, although it is regrettable that despite many attempts it could not have been amicably resolved prior to Night & Day bringing this court case.

“The Council has never sought to close Night & Day and very much want it to remain open and continue to play an active role in Manchester’s music scene.

“Over many months numerous meetings have taken place where we have sought to reach an amicable resolution with the venue, through negotiation and offering compromise, to agree acceptable sound levels which would allow us to uphold our legal duties and the venue to continue to thrive.

“It is as a last resort and extremely rare for us to issue a noise abatement notice. Manchester’s music venues overwhelmingly live in harmony with their neighbours and while complaints and issues are not uncommon, they are almost always resolved through dialogue.

“We welcome the judge’s ruling that Night & Day should use a noise limiter. The use of a limiter was a solution we proposed – and the judgement makes clear that our officers acted correctly in investigating the noise complaints in line with the Council’s legal responsibilities.

“We hope that we can all move forward from this unfortunate episode and we wish to work constructively with the venue.

“Music is a key ingredient of what makes Manchester special. The Council not only recognises this but has for many decades supported and encouraged grassroots venues and emerging musical talent. We continue to do so.

“In response to the pressures facing grassroots music venues across the country and here in the city, the Council commissioned a major independent review into the support Manchester’s grassroots music venues need, and how the council and partners can support venues. Its findings will be launched in May and will set out a way to champion Manchester’s independent music scene for the years ahead.

“The Council regularly support music ventures across the city, from grassroots to major venues, and emerging musicians through initiatives like Manchester Music City, Brighter Sounds and the Manchester Music Education Hub. The Council also funds and supports Beyond The Music, a new annual conference and festival which brings music industry leaders together to address challenges within the sector.

“We are committed to helping Manchester’s music scene to continue to flourish for many years to come.”

Greater Manchester Music Commission comments

A statement from the Greater Manchester Music Commission explored the case in depth.

They released the following statement: “The Greater Manchester Music Commission welcomes the news that iconic grassroots music venue Night & Day Café will be able to continue to present live music and club events and that District Judge Margaret McCormack agreed with the noise levels offered by the venue to Manchester City Council in June 2023 as part of joint acoustic testing.

“For more than thirty-two years Night & Day has developed, championed, and provided a stage for some of the world’s finest musical talent, helping define Manchester as one of the most creative and culturally rich cities in the world.

“Manchester would not be the city it is today without grassroots music venues like Night & Day, a venue that has played a notable role in establishing the Northern Quarter as one of the most vibrant communities in the UK, curating the character, geography and soundtrack of the area.

“Night & Day not only pre-dates the development at the centre of this case, it pre-dates the Northern Quarter having a name.

“Despite this encouraging outcome, the Greater Manchester Music Commission is concerned by many aspects of this case, particularly by how operational limitations may impact on Night & Day’s cultural programming and the ongoing economic viability of the business.

“It is troubling that throughout this drawn-out procedure, Manchester City Council has refused to take ownership of historic planning mistakes.

“When the adjoining building was converted from a warehouse to apartments in 2000, no consideration was given to the pre-existing live music venue, and Manchester City Council did not ensure that the developer undertook crucial acoustic reporting, or that they entered into constructive dialogue with Night & Day.

“Disturbing too, is the judge’s statement, on-record, that the Northern Quarter should not be considered to have a cultural focus, but is instead a ‘mixed-use’ area. Every night-time business in the Northern Quarter should feel extremely concerned by this news.

“It not only sends an alarming message about the value Manchester City Council places on our cultural quarters but essentially puts all those organisations on an ‘at risk’ register where a single noise complaint could force them to change the very nature of their business.

“As the GMMC have stated previously, a definitive solution to this widespread issue has to involve improved national planning legislation, but on a local level it’s essential we take a clear collective stance: We need to see a more thorough execution of planning policy around new developments that may impact unfairly on existing cultural businesses, including recognition of our commitment to Agent of Change.

“We need to see a more measured approach to environmental health dialogue and enforcement.

“Categorically, we need to see unequivocal support for our cultural assets, enterprises and neighbourhoods. It is dispiriting to see civic leaders extol the virtue and value of our music industry and communities while doing little or nothing to protect and secure them.

“The timeframe and manner in which this case has been conducted, including inflammatory statements by legal representation during the hearing, has done significant damage to the reputation of Manchester as a music city. The personal and financial cost to the owners and staff at Night & Day and the wider music community in Greater Manchester is equally significant and damaging.

“Any venue forced to fight this kind of action faces significant expense, in Night & Day’s case, around £100,000 with a similar figure being spent by Manchester City Council. This is money, resources and time taken away from cultural programming and venue improvements, to say nothing of ongoing operational costs.

“This case comes at a time when UK grassroots music venues are already facing considerable challenges.

“The Music Venue Trust Annual Report 2023 states that last year the UK saw a loss of 125 grassroots music venues. These businesses either closed or ceased hosting live music altogether.

“In 2023, the Music Venue Trust Emergency Response Service saw a 38% increase in emergency cases, and threats to venues from noise complaints were a key trend. Noise abatement orders and/or other neighbour disputes were identified as a contributing factor to permanent closure.

“The Greater Manchester Music Commission would welcome greater consistency between the actions of Manchester City Council and the rhetoric of their developing Culture Strategy which includes data that states that: 82% of residents believe that culture brings happiness to their lives and that 58% named ‘going to music events’ as the thing that they loved to see, do or make.

“The tagline for Manchester’s Cultural Strategy consultation is ‘It All Starts with a Spark.’ Indeed, in places like Night & Day.

“So where are we now?

“It’s welcome news that Night & Day can operate as they have done for over 32 years, albeit with conditions in place, but we are left with a local system that is unable to recognise and correct historic poor practice, one that spends excessive amounts of public money, one that puts venue operators and their teams under huge emotional and financial pressure, and one that can make wildly unpopular decisions while bizarrely misreading the cultural essence of an entire city.

“And sadly, The case begs the question, why move to the Northern Quarter, particularly next to a well-established music venue, if you didn’t expect a bit of noise?:

You can find out what’s going on at Night & Day Cafe and support a great independent venue by clicking here

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