LETTER: Koko ruling provides strong legal guidance in AIR studios battle

Air Studios

Air Studios - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Hampstead solicitor Jessica Learmond-Criqui writes: I and many others have been campaigning against the development at 11 Rosslyn Hill in Belsize Park, next to the world-renowned Air Studios.

Jessica Learmond-Criqui (photo: Polly Hancock)

Jessica Learmond-Criqui (photo: Polly Hancock) - Credit: Polly Hancock

When I started the campaign, I put the philosophic question: “to what extent should a development be allowed if it will seriously and deleteriously impact the livelihood and success of a business such as a recording studios which brings not only revenues to our local authority but also kudos”.

Camden now has the benefit of having legal clarity provided by the case of Obar Camden Ltd v The London Borough of Camden (‘Koko’) in which the nightclub won its judicial review against the council’s decision to approve an application to turn the Hope and Anchor pub next to it into flats.

Koko argued that as a nightclub they make noise and the residents of new flats will complain about the noise which would impact on their business. The effect of the High Court’s decision is that Koko has some prior rights over those coming within its vicinity.

The similarities between the Rosslyn Hill application and the Koko case are startling. Koko is internationally renowned, as is Air Studios. Koko was trading successfully before the arrival of the developers, as is Air Studios.

One of Air Studios’ main complaints against the development is that the construction noise from the building of the enormous basement at 11 Rosslyn Hill will mean that recordings cannot be made due to noise. The studios are built so that it is an organic environment for sound. I am not an expert, but Gavin Greenaway, a film music conductor of international repute, said:

‘‘Close-by mechanical drilling or digging creates low frequency vibrations that are directly fed into the fabric of the building, which further amplifies and reverberates them to a clearly audible level. This cannot be erased from recordings, not to mention the fact that musicians find it very difficult to play against out-of-tune drones.’’

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Air Studios has already lodged objections to the application and is being forced to re-engage it’s experts to conduct further work as the applicants refuse to give up on their quest for planning. The Heath and Hampstead Society has lodged a powerful objection.

The British Film Commission has also objected, setting out very clearly the impact on the UK film industry if Air Studios were forced to close, stating: “Air is one of only two recording studios in the UK able to provide score recording services to major international feature films which base themselves in the UK; recent productions include Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, Disney’s Cinderella and New Line Cinema’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.’’

If Air is unable to operate for an extended period, the UK’s draw for major international productions would be severely compromised, with severe implications for the wider UK economy.

This application will test the resolve of Camden to take heed of the judge’s pronouncements in the Koko case. I hope it makes a decision quickly. The effect of the delay is beginning to impact on the industry. If Air becomes inoperable, Abbey Road studios is unlikely to cope with the volume of business which may well go abroad, never to return. The BFC’s objection could not be clearer as to the importance of Air Studios to the UK economy/film industry.

It is clear that this application is a challenge to Camden. I do not recall a time when Camden has ever faced a situation of this magnitude and of such national and international significance.

The tens of thousands of film makers, management, hoteliers, conductors, musicians, score writers, co-ordinators, vocalists, sound technicians and engineers and associated employees and self-employed workers in this industry who support the many visiting production teams, not to mention audiences around the world and no doubt the Chancellor of the Exchequer (!) now eagerly await Camden Council’s decision.

I and at least 8,700 people who signed the petition at https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-air-studios urge Camden to reject this application out of hand and to put up an anti- development curtailage around Air to protect it from future applications (which threaten a similar impact) which should never again see the light of day while Air continues to trade.