Fact-checked: Is London's nightlife dying?
Lots of doomy takes this week, so the Spy checks what official data says
Morning — here’s what we’ve spied in the capital on Thursday, February 23, 2023:
👯 Much lamentation this week about the state of London’s nightlife, with claims it’s “dying” and that the capital is no longer a “24/7 city”. A whole host of factors are being blamed — the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis and NIMBYs lobbying for tougher late opening rules. But data analysed by the Spy suggests that the picture isn’t quite as gloomy as some are making out. Here are the facts:
Have venues in London shut? Definitely in the wake of the pandemic, though the exact scale isn’t super clear, partly because we just don’t have recent enough data yet. There’s no national database of nightclubs we can look at, so instead we have to rely on figures published by the Home Office that show how many premises in London are licensed to sell alcohol for consumption on site. That includes clubs, but pubs and bars too. As of March 2022 there were 8,852 of these licences issued in London. That's a sizable fall on the 10,275 in 2018, which certainly speaks to the pandemic’s impact. But it’s by no means the lowest in recent memory; it’s above 2016, when there were just 7,242.
Are they shutting everywhere in London? No — in fact in March 2022 more than half of London’s 32 boroughs had more premises with on-sale alcohol licences than at any point in the last 10 years. And that includes areas whose nightlife many are mourning for, like Hackney and Camden. Where licences have actually fallen most steeply are some of the outer boroughs, like Sutton or Redbridge.
How does that square with all the doom? Well of course what’s missing from this data is what’s happened since March 2022, as the capital got hit by the cost-of-living crisis. No official figures exist that cover this time period — instead all we have to go on is evidence from industry bodies like the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA). They published figures in November that claimed 14 clubs were closing per month, as energy bills and staff costs soared. But the key caveat here is this was just a UK-wide figure, and they didn’t provide data on London specifically.
What about opening hours? This is perhaps the biggest source of gloom. While there might still be a healthy number of boozy premises in London, what people are really lamenting right now is the death of London’s late nightlife, and the ease of spontaneously having a big one that goes on into the early hours. The data here is mixed. What’s definitely grown in the capital are late night levies — councils charging extra fees on premises operating late into the night, in turn leading to earlier last orders. These were brought in for the first time by two authorities in 2015, Islington and the City of London. Now there are five, with Tower Hamlets, Southwark and Hackney also charging the tax. But despite that, the number of pubs, bars and nightclubs with 24 hour alcohol licenses in London has actually grown across the city in the same period, from 50 in 2015 to 183 by March 2022.
In summary: There’s no doubt it’s a tough time for London’s nightlife at the moment — but the Spy reckons it’s far too early days to proclaim its death just yet.
🚆 Save the date: another Tube strike on March 15. This time its drivers with union ASLEF that are walking out, over pensions and changes to working agreements.
😡 More trouble brewing with the far-right in London. First, the “London cell” of National Action, a neo-Nazi group officially banned in 2016, have reportedly sent a threatening letter to an activist and a TV presenter, prompting an official investigation by anti-terrorism detectives. Second, a far-right demo is planned outside a south London pub this coming Saturday, where a drag queen is hosting a storytelling session. It follows protests outside another drag story hour in the Tate Britain earlier in the month that led to clashes with counter-protestors and one arrest.
🐑 An obscure medieval law on sheep could be used to block plans to move markets from the City of London to Dagenham. Smithfield and Billingsgate markets are meant to be moving to outer London, but Havering Council might enforce a law made 775 years ago that bans a market from being set up within a day’s sheep drive (6.66 miles) from Romford Market.
🚨 Toxic cultures in London’s emergency services are once again making headlines. A WhatsApp group containing Met officers included messages that praised a rapist, made offensive remarks about the Holocaust, abused disabled people and applauded violence against women, a tribunal has heard. Meanwhile the London Fire Brigade features in a new audio documentary on racism, sexism and bullying of female fire staff.
And just a note — the Spy is off on holiday for the rest of this week. We’ll be back next Tuesday 👋
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