Brent should protect the Good Ship

…or indeed what follows it.

When I was in post as Cabinet Lead for Stronger Communities I felt (and rather regretted) that I had no choice other than to be dragged into a public dispute with the then owner of the Good Ship in Kilburn, which as it happens is one of my favourite bars in Brent and a place I have spent many early mornings in.

It’s difficult when you are a councillor and especially a cabinet member, as you will generally be considered the more powerful party in a disagreement with any member of the public.

This generally means that neutral spectators will find it harder to trust you than the member of the public if you have different opinions or different versions of events.

Perhaps the most regrettable aspect of the Good Ship dispute for me was the impression given that the Council wants to use its licensing function to close late night venues, when nothing could be further from the truth. Brent has a direct financial and reputational interest in a thriving night time economy, on the one condition that customers and passers by are safe and businesses are legally compliant.

For me and for licensing officers at the council, the goal is actually to do whatever we can to keep establishments open and commercially healthy – on the condition of safety.

So I suppose what I am trying to say is that I always wanted the Good Ship to stay open, which is why I pointed out that they would probably have done well to review their licensing conditions. Given that they seemed to blame us for them shutting down, their keenness to sell up and move on was something which sat uneasily for me, not least because we know they felt this way before there were new licensing conditions.

Given that they now appear to have sold up, as I see it the priority for Brent should be making sure that the functions offered by the Good Ship are not simply lost. This is not all about licensing – it also relies heavily on planning. I’m personally committed to protecting cultural assets and the night time economy as best possible, so I have lodged a planning objection as a private citizen, which I have reproduced below. I am not hugely versed in planning rules, so the points I have made are general and related to process – the aim being to maintain the site as a music and comedy venue for Kilburn High Road.

I am not sure whether my short comments here should be considered an objection, but I am writing to remind officers and members about the CAMRA approved “pub protection policy” included in the Brent DMP and the likelihood of its applicability here.

I am not local to the building, but I am objecting as the member who previously held responsility both for licensing and culture within the Borough.

The commercial viability of the ground floor as a bar and music venue should be rigorously investigated. Given the fact that licensing conditions had been successful in achieving their stated aims in guaranteeing greater safety for patrons, I do not accept that the conditions could not have been altered, and as such I don’t think these are a substantial grounds for any lack of commercial viability. In any event I do not believe that the test for commercial viability should be purely anecdotal, but should be set against a benchmark for similar venues.

On the building itself I shall leave questions about the size, placing and appearance to the ward councillors, even though I am not presently a member of Brent Council, and to local residents. As such the objection that I have is essentially one of process, in the sense that I am keen that it is made sure appropriate policies are followed, in part to ensure the wider effectiveness of the pub protection measure which I personally campaigned throughout 2014-15 to have put in place.

Suffice it to say that I think the good ship as a venue for music and comedy has been of cultural importance to the local area, and the loss of another music and comedy venue presents obstacles to wider council policy as the 2020 Borough of Culture, and as the Council works towards a night time economy strategy. Brent needs more venues like the Good Ship, not fewer.

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