Action taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus has had a serious impact on the arts. The requirement for venues to close for several weeks and the continuing need for social distancing has made it difficult for arts providers to provide effective services to the public. This caused concern about the long term future of some arts services.
The announcement by the UK Government of a £1.57bn support package for arts and culture was therefore very welcome. The support will be made up of support for cultural organisations through a mixture of grants and loans; targeted support for national cultural institutions in England; capital investment to restart construction on projects that were paused because of the coronavirus pandemic and funding for the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The Government also announced a requirement for local authorities to have due regard to the current circumstances when considering an application for permission for change of use, development or demolition of a theatre, concert hall or live music performance venue where such venues are temporarily vacant because of the coronavirus. The Government is also removing permitted development rights for such venues. These changes are intended to ensure that temporary closure of venues during the pandemic does not lead to permanent loss of important cultural and economic assets.
Local authorities can play an important part in enabling arts and culture to flourish in their areas, by owning and managing arts and cultural venues themselves, by including them in regeneration schemes and in their decisions on planning applications. When taking decisions on resources, they face considerable pressure from other demands on their resources. They also need to take account of all their legal obligations, both from legislation and their own constitutions. They may also be affected by the circumstances in which they own or have access to arts assets.
For example, if something has been donated or lent to a local authority, this might be subject to conditions. They should also consider the impact of their decisions on the availability of grant funding, which can provide an important source of income for arts facilities. The approach taken by a local authority or governing body of an arts venue to management of assets may affect their eligibility for grants in general and their ability to comply with conditions associated with individual grants.
Local authorities will have a role to play in the impact on their areas of the Government’s support for arts and on the application of planning law. The following steps will help them to fulfil this role effectively:
- Keeping their arts assets under review. Local authorities should ensure that they are aware of the resources needed to manage their assets and clear about how they will manage this. They should also be alert to opportunities for their assets to generate income. For example, the coronavirus pandemic will have an impact on the number of people who can visit arts venues but local authorities could consider making some art available on loan and using their charging power to generate an income.
- Ensuring their decision-making is effective. They must observe all principles of lawful and reasonable decision-making. If they will be taking decisions in different capacities, for example as a landowner and as a local planning authority, they will need to ensure that there is appropriate separation of functions and that they do not create any impressions that decisions have been predetermined.
- Ensuring that they are aware of all legal obligations which will affect their management, use and disposal of assets.
- Taking account of the background to their acquisition of or access to arts assets and any constraints this will place on them.
- Considering whether their approaches and decisions on the management of arts assets are compatible with the requirements of funding bodies and the potential impact this will have on their income.
Tiffany Cloynes is a partner and Clare Hardy is a senior associate at Geldards LLP