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Night-time Economy: Hertfordshire

Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 12 July 2022

I will call Dean Russell to move the motion, and then I will call the Minister to respond. There will not be an opportunity for Mr Russell to wind up, so he and the Minister get one go each. The debate is due to finish at 4.30, and I am advised that there may be five Divisions called then, so the Minister may want to ensure that she concludes her remarks before then.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Pryzm nightclub and the night-time economy in Hertfordshire.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I am delighted to bring this debate to Westminster. The situation in Watford is worrying. Our high street, like everywhere over the pandemic, has been hit by challenging times, and Watford has one of the best high streets in the country. We have an incredible wealth of brilliant stores, organisations and small businesses that we need to continue to support. What I have found over the past few years, especially during my time as the Member of Parliament for Watford, is how much our community comes together, works together and supports each other, and that includes supporting our small businesses as we move forward.

We have a challenge: one of our most popular night-time destinations, Pryzm nightclub, is under threat. The situation at the moment is that there is a planning application in place to turn the nightclub and surrounding businesses into homes. I am not against new homes—it is important that we have them. I am not too keen on very tall towers, which is a totally different debate that I am sure we could have another time. The nightclub would close not because people are not going through the doors. It would close merely because a landlord wants to change it into something else—something that is not part of the night-time economy. The reason why that is a challenge is that the night-time economy, as we all know, is not just one place. It is not one nightclub; it is a whole ecosystem. It is an incredible ecosystem that includes local restaurants, bars, food outlets, takeaway places and our brilliant taxi trade, which all rely on the thousands of people who come to Watford every weekend to go to the nightclub.

Closing the nightclub would pull the rug from under those businesses and hard-working people who have struggled to get through covid over the past few years and have come through the other side. They survived it and are on the verge of thriving, but that would be cut off. My request to the Minister today, and I have a few points I would like to raise with her, is about how we can support the night-time economy in general. I appreciate that these are national debates, but Pryzm is a good example of the challenges we face as a community and as a Government who support small business. Losing places like nightclubs that allow the night-time economy to thrive would risk setting off a domino effect of closures and high streets not surviving, which will also impact tourism, trade and opportunity.

I would like to thank a few people. First, I thank Maria Manion, the chief executive of Watford business improvement district, or the BID, as it is often known. It has done incredible work looking at the impact of the closure and what it would mean locally, but it also does incredible work to support local businesses. I thank Dave Vickery, the manager at Pryzm Watford. I have been down there a few times—I can confirm I did not dance or drink. Dave is absolutely passionate, and I could tell the care his staff have for the people who go to the nightclub. They ensure that people have a safe and enjoyable evening out and that when they go back out on the street at the end of the night, they continue to have a safe journey home and a safe environment to go to the other businesses locally.

I have heard from Dave that places like nightclubs are communities. They are places where people go to see their friends at the end of each week, to start to relax and to use it as a release each week—one thing I am passionate about is people helping their own mental wellbeing. When we lose that, it has a damaging effect on not just the economy, but people.

Anyone watching the debate, especially from Hertfordshire —I am sure millions will be tuning in to this Westminster Hall debate—will know that Pryzm nightclub has also been known as Oceana, Destiny, Paradise Lost, Bailey’s and many other names. It has been on the parade for nearly 40 years, so it has not just popped up; it is part of the legacy there. I hope that I am not breaching their confidence, but there are people working in Parliament who met their partners there. The club has a legacy of people forging relationships and friendships there over many years, and it presents an opportunity for people to come together, celebrate and release after a hard week at work.

People might not be aware, but Pryzm does incredible work for local charities, including Watford Mencap, which I visited recently. The Mencap team takes 70 people—or clients, as they call them—to Pryzm for a safe night out on the last Friday of every month. There, they can have a drink in a safe environment and see friends whom they would not usually see. If Pryzm closes, nothing else they could do would come close to providing similar enjoyment in a safe community space.

I will raise with the Minister the impact on jobs and the night-time economy. Pryzm, has about 110 employees, and an average of 3,000 visitors over Friday and Saturday. On big event nights, including performances by big DJs, there can be many thousands more visitors, and Pryzm welcomes about 500 people on Mondays. That is absolutely critical, because each person will spend not just at Pryzm, but in the local area. I am particularly concerned for taxi firms, which had a really difficult time during lockdown. They struggled for every single fare, sometimes waiting hours for the next pick-up, before re-joining the back of the queue. Stopping their ability to earn from the night-time economy is a real travesty. The average spend at Pryzm is about £20 per person, but that equates to about £34 for our local economy.

Let me be clear: this is not just about Watford—I would not be so selfish as to focus only on Watford. If we lose nightclubs and the night-time economy in towns across the UK, we lose not just the economic benefit but part of our culture. Pubs are absolutely critical to what we think when we think of Britain—I do not think there is a single soap on TV that does not feature a pub. Most towns—not soaps—have a nightclub as well, or used to. People used to have a space—or perhaps a disco, for my generation—where they could go, but those spaces are dying out. That is a real challenge. I will not go into “Saturday Night Fever” mode and start dancing, but those places existed for so long for a reason: they drive so much opportunity for people, who can forge relationships there, as I said earlier.

I am also passionate about the creative arts. So many people get their first start at nightclubs and in night-time bars where music can be performed. It is incredible how many bands start by doing gigs in small towns, building their following until they can, potentially, tour around the world. Everyone wants that first step on the ladder. For creative people, having a home-town audience, or one in the surrounding area, to listen to, support and fund them can make a massive difference. Losing nightclubs would have massive effect on the future of the night-time economy. On the music industry, it is estimated that there were almost 1 million music tourists in the south-east prior to covid, supporting 5,300 jobs in the south-east alone. That is a huge number, and it goes to the heart of my concerns.

I will wind up with a few questions for the Minister because I am conscious that there will shortly be votes in the House. First, is there anything that I can do to encourage the council? I totally understand that it has to follow specific processes to agree or refuse planning applications—I am not trying to force them through—but how could I help before it reaches the point of refusing a planning application? Could I speak to businesses? Are there any support packages that could be used to help them and encourage them not to close this vital part of our community?

The Minister is new to her post, and she is doing an incredible job so far. I look forward to seeing her in post for a long time. I would like to ask what the Government are doing to support the night-time economy so that we can build on that. I think there are three questions. What can I do? What is being done? How are the Government supporting the night-time economy of the future, creative industries and, most importantly, small businesses?

It is a pleasure to stand before you for my first Westminster Hall debate, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell) on securing this important debate. Clearly, this is an important issue for him and his constituents. I ought to say that my hon. Friend does an excellent job for Watford. None of his colleagues could ever say they do not know anything about Watford, because he is constantly going on about Watford. Good for him. It is much appreciated, I am sure.

I recognise that this is a local, commercial planning matter. Providing new homes to ease pressure on the housing market is obviously important. It is also important to preserve commercial areas, which are fundamental to the health of local economies and communities. Hospitality, alongside retail, personal care and leisure, is part of an ecosystem, as my hon. Friend said, that underpins healthy local economies and communities. This ecosystem includes a symbiotic relationship between businesses operating during the day and evening, and businesses operating into the night. I have talked to the Department about the day-time, night-time and twilight economies and the connection between them. I am sure that is where much of that £34 is being spent before people go on into the nightclub.

If the night-time economy fails, it has a detrimental impact on the ecosystem as a whole. As well as providing accessible jobs and stimulating local supply chains, hospitality businesses support tourism, help to attract inward investment, generate income for local authorities to invest in services and infrastructure, connect communities and support mental health, just as my hon. Friend said. All that helps to improve living standards and creates desirable places for people to visit, study, live and work.

While increasing the number of residents living in our town and city centres is a good thing for local economies, businesses and residents need to be able to co-exist. However, we know from experience that residential areas and night-time economy businesses do not necessarily co-exist well. We have seen many cases of long-standing businesses being forced to close under the weight of complaints about noise from new residents. To ensure a healthy business environment that will deliver for local economies and communities, this ecosystem needs to be managed, and it needs to support and complement wider plans for economic development, regeneration and levelling up.

It is important to talk about levelling up. People think about levelling up as being for places other than the south-east. In fact, it is just as applicable to Watford as it is to Loughborough or any other town in the country. Levelling up for most parts of the country will involve improving productivity and economic growth by encouraging innovation, creating good jobs, enhancing educational attainment, and renovating the social and cultural fabric of the parts of the UK that are falling behind. Investing in education, digital connectivity, housing and transport to attract new business investment, as well as attracting and retaining talent, is a key part of levelling up. Increasing the number of overseas tourists visiting the UK and achieving a better distribution of tourism across the UK is also an important part of levelling up. 

In 2019, 40.9 million overseas residents visited the UK, spending around £28.4 billion. Of those staying at least one night, 21.7 million visited London, while 2.2 million visited Edinburgh, 1.6 million visited Manchester and 1.1 million visited Birmingham. As my hon. Friend said, this is about Watford specifically, but it is also about the night-time economy across the whole country.

Creating the right environment for high street businesses to flourish is vital to creating destinations that will appeal to entrepreneurs, students and tourists alike. Research by Centre for Cities on healthy local ecosystems for students and graduates highlights the importance of attracting new students to bolster local economies, as they tend to spend their money where they study. A place’s ability to attract students from other parts of the country will therefore affect the strength of its economy, and the night-time economy would definitely attract the student population. Moreover, as the UK continues to specialise in more highly skilled, knowledge-intensive activities, the extent to which cities can attract and retain skilled graduates will have a big impact on their economic performance.

As constituency MPs, we know that hospitality and nightclubs are important, and clearly that is why my hon. Friend brought this matter to the House. Nationally, hospitality employs 2.4 million people, and there are 167,000 hospitality businesses, creating £83 billion in revenue in 2021.

Given that I am debating my private Member’s Bill on tips on Friday—I just want to give it a plug—I want to point out the importance of the hospitality sector. It is important that staff can keep the tips that are given to them, and I hope the Minister agrees with me on Friday when she is at the Dispatch Box.

I welcome the introduction of my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill. Ensuring that tips go to workers is the right thing to do. It is a policy that my Department has worked hard on, and I look forward to responding to him on Friday.

We are working to make permanent many of the regulatory easements that we introduced during the pandemic, which not only provided hospitality businesses with greater flexibility to trade but helped to create the vibrant, bustling outdoor spaces we need to encourage people back into our town and city centres. In July 2021, we published the first ever hospitality strategy, which set out our ambition for the recovery and future resilience of the sector, and we have established a Hospitality Sector Council to oversee its delivery. We did all that because we recognise the importance of hospitality not just nationally but locally. If we are to maximise the potential of hospitality to support our local economies and communities, stimulate inward investment and tourism, and help levelling up across the country, we need to cultivate and nurture our local high street ecosystems. We have talked about those things.

As I say, the planning mechanisms are the way forward, and unfortunately they are not with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy but with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. However, I understand that DLUHC is bringing forward planning matters that could be dealt with through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which might include an auction after a year if a building remains empty. I am not sure whether that would happen in this case, but it is still worth bearing in mind for colleagues across the country.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate and giving us an opportunity to discuss this issue in Parliament. Although this is very much a local planning issue, it raises important questions about how we manage the transition of our high streets from being fundamentally retail centres to being more experiential spaces where we meet the needs of local residents and attract new footfall. I believe that, in this case, that can best be achieved by local authorities working closely together with local delivery partners—clearly, that has happened with the bid—interested groups, businesses and landlords. I thank my hon. Friend very much indeed for bringing this matter forward.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Watford (Dean Russell) on securing the debate and the Minister on her debut performance.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.

Sitting resumed—

Sitting adjourned.