Antwerp Mansion will be forced to close next month on the orders of Manchester City Council Planning Department. Unlike the scenarios we have recently seen in the media with clubs such as Fabric & the Rainbow venues, there has been no single incident that has led to this closure and our premises license remains fully intact.
In September of last year Antwerp Mansion was served with an enforcement notice, after Manchester City Council (MCC) were informed of unclear planning permissions that dated back to the 1920's. The Council's view was that Antwerp Mansion only had permission to operate as a private member's club, not as a nightclub despite the fact that it had successfully been run as one for approximately 7 years. We had no warning of this and no one from the Council made any attempt to speak to us. MCC served an enforcement notice in the summer (a period in which we are closed) that Antwerp Mansion must revert back to this use within 28 days with a closing time of 11pm. Antwerp Mansion had the right to appeal this notice, which then triggered a legal battle that we have been fighting for the past 7 months. We did not make public the threat of closure or this enforcement notice during the appeal process.
Our reasoning behind this was we did not feel the need to railroad MCC's decision with a public campaign, and that since the venue was so well run there would be no issue with us continuing to operate as a nightclub. During the appeal process both sides submitted evidence for and against the venue to continue as a nightclub. At this point MCC's planning department started used every department available to them to gather evidence to support what we considered to be their very weak case.
Despite no noise complaints in over two years, all of a sudden one was made and used in evidence against us. Licensing officers were regularly sent sometimes 4 or 5 nights a week on evidence gathering trips to inspect the building. Antwerp Mansion received letters from MCC licensing stating that we were in breach of multiple licensing conditions to our complete disbelief. On one occasion, their claims were so wrong we lodged a formal complaint. Amongst their claims this time MCC Licensing officers said they had witnessed us breaching our closing time of 3am. Every customer who has ever been to Antwerp knows that just before 3am on the dot the music is cut and everyone begins to leave. We offered CCTV evidence to MSC licensing dept. to prove this claim was untrue but they conducted an internal investigation without the CCTV and dismissed our complaints out of hand.
Antwerp Mansion was served a noise abatement order for a nuisance for "chatter" on a night where there was terrible weather with hardly any customers in the smoking area. The officers also did not approach the venue on the night the order was served to question us, which is far from normal procedure if a complaint is lodged, they would normally visit and ask us to deal with such a problem. Noise abatement orders are subjective, if the council believe you are guilty, you are guilty and they need no evidence to support this. There is also no process of appeal, only on the grounds of wrongful service.
On the subject of noise, all the local residents have access to a direct mobile number to the club. This number was only ever called by one person on a regular basis, who we worked with to successfully rectify the noise issue. All this evidence was gathered AFTER the notice had been served in order to swing the decision in MCC's favour.
The local authorities also want Antwerp Mansion removed from existence as it has been labelled a crime hotspot. The majority of the crime figures they list are as a result of mobile phone thefts. The vast majority of phones which are listed as stolen for insurance purposes are immediately handed in to lost property by our staff or other customers, and are then promptly returned to the owners. However, the Police do not keep records of any phones that are returned so the statistics are meaningless.
On one occasion however after our own security operation the Antwerp Mansion security team successfully caught and apprehended two males with a number of phones that clearly did not belong to them in their possession. Greater Manchester Police took over an hour to arrive, and when they eventually did the officers then proceeded to joke around with the two males and send them on their way without any kind of arrest or prosecution. This lack of action was truly shocking for our security team who had worked so hard to catch these individuals and hand them in to the authorities only to have those authorities release the thieves back into the public. Meanwhile, the number of muggings, burglaries and other violent crimes in the Fallowfield area are increasing at an aggressive rate. Antwerp Mansion is not a crime hotspot and we will not be blamed for students being attacked. It is the responsibility of the local authorities to look after its citizens at night.
Antwerp Mansion has always wanted to keep a dialogue going with MCC should any issues arise and we have tried to speak to them to say that we would work with them co-operatively with any conditions they would deem necessary for our continued operation. However, our offer has fallen on deaf ears. They are determined to remove us from existence and seem to have a plan to destroy all nightlife that is not in the city centre.
What happens next? A Manchester City Council planning officer has already told us that they are aware that the closure of Antwerp Mansion will lead to an increased number of students spending their nights out in Fallowfield venues. Therefore, they have also decided to enforce and issue notices to the business owners there. Multiple bars including Cubo, Font, Revolution and many others face the same fate in a few months. With the lack of regulated venues this will inevitably lead to increased illegal house parties and raves in the South Manchester area. Further down the line it is Manchester City Council's policy to use the police and private security forces to make arrests and seize private equipment to prevent the house parties from happening. We must stand up and tell them enough is enough. Antwerp Mansion is the first place they have targeted but it will not be the last.
We think it is time now that we spoke directly to the local politicians. It is they who set the rules that the Officers of the Council must work within. It is also they who have the power to intervene and come up with a workable solution to avoid this closure. In the past they have given us many extensions to our hours as we have behaved as a responsible nightclub. We have even been praised by them for improving the City's diverse night-time economy. We will be contacting them ourselves but in the meantime we would recommend that you do too. We are local residents too just like you and these people should represent ALL our views not just those of a tiny minority. That's democracy.
If you would like to add your voice to ours please sign this petition to have our case brought back to Manchester City Council.