BLUF Local News: London

Backstreet: How you can help save it

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve seen a call being circulated on social media to help try and save the Backstreet from closure. I’ve gathered together some information here to help you make the most effective submissions.

What’s happening?

In January of 2019, a planning appeal will be held that will determine whether or not The Backstreet continues in its present form. The appeal is a public inquiry, into a planning application submitted in 2016 to redevelop the site. The redevelopment will replace the present buildings with a tower comprising retail space on the ground floor, residential space above, and a new space for The Backstreet in the basement.

So, this is not a new situation by any means, just the culmination of a process that has been going on for a longtime; at the bottom of this article you can read earlier pieces about the situation for additional background.

The inquiry is scheduled to last for five days; a planning officer for the council (Tower Hamlets) will put their case, which is that the redevelopment should not be allowed. The developers will argue their side, in the hopes of overturning the decision, and after five days the inspector will make a report. That - unless it is challenged in court - will be the end of the current proposal, one way or another.

How you can help

In the strictest of terms, it is not possible for members of the public to submit material to the planning appeal. Objections sent to the council earlier form part of the evidence at the inquiry, and people who wrote during the earlier stages of the process will already have been asked if they wish to make any additional submissions. The deadline for those has now passed.

However, the council officer who will be making their case at the inquiry has until the 18th of December to submit her material. If she receives relevant information, it will be included as part of her submission, and so become available to the inquiry.

By sending submissions to her, you can make your voice heard, regarding the importance of The Backstreet to the gay community, and in particular the leather and rubber community, both in London, and beyond.

What you should consider saying

I won’t provide a cut-and-paste letter, because things always have more weight if they are expressed in your own terms. You should also at this stage focus largely on the preservation of Backstreet; the other reasons for refusal of the planning permission, regarding air quality, access and so on, can be quite complex, and it is not necessary for you to raise them.

These are some key points to highlight:

  • The Backstreet is one of very few strict dress code clubs still operating, not just in the UK but in Europe too
  • It is home to many successful nights, such as Mastery, BLUF, and IGNITE, which attract visitors from all over the UK and from overseas
  • The dress code and the nature of the nights mean that there is a unique atmosphere to the club that cannot easily be replicated by simply moving some of the events to a different venue
  • As one of the oldest continually running LGBT spaces in London, it is an important part of our culture, and of the night time economy
  • The night time economy is considered a key part of London, and in particular LGBT spaces in Tower Hamlets and elsewhere need to be protected, as was recently done with the Joiners Arms
  • The Backstreet has operated for over thirty years, and not caused trouble or disturbance, unlike the clubs that have operated in the other part of the building

You may also want to note that, while there is a proposal to build a new club in the basement, this remains a matter of concern for some of the following reasons:

  • A legally binding agreement needs to be in place, not just to grant the new space to The Backstreet, but to ensure that it’s financially viable
  • With residential space above it, the rebuilt club would be vulnerable to noise complaints from the new neighbours
  • As a newly built club, there would be a requirement for a new licence, and this may impose additional constraints upon the club that it doesn’t have at the moment
  • The proposed new development would mean the loss of the smoking area, which is an important part of the club, and very popular for events like IGNITE and Mastery
  • The proposed alternative to relocating the club to the basement would be difficult to finance

In short, while there is a proposal on the table to move the club to the basement, we no longer believe that there are sufficient safeguards to guarantee not just that it will happen, but that the club will remain viable afterwards.

You could also include some personal information, to explain why Backstreet is so important to you personally, or if you are writing on behalf of an organisation, explain why it matters to that organisation.

Where to send your submissions

You can submit your comments to the council’s Principal Planner, Christina Gawne. She will be representing the council, and arguing their case at the inquiry - which is that the application to redevelop should be refused. So, in this she is very much our ally. Your comments will be included as part of her evidence, if you submit them in time.

You can send comments by email to or by post to her at Development Management, London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Mulbery Place, PO Box 55739, 5 Clove Crescent, London E14 1BY.

Please send them as soon as possible - remember that the deadline of the 18th is for the council’s submission to the inquiry, so aim to send your information to them sooner.

The appeal reference is APP/E5900/W/18/3204874 but if you simply say you are writing about The Backstreet, or 562 Mile End Road, she will know which case you are referring to.

Previous reports about this (newest first):

Another Backstreet update (August 2018)
Backstreet: developers are appealing (June 2018)
Planning wheels grind exceeding slow (November 2017)
Backstreet planning update (August 2017)
Backstreet Planning Update - Digging Deeper (July 2017)
Backstreet - another win (April 2017)
It lives! The Backstreet planning application has been revised (March 2017)
Planning committee minutes (January 2017)
Step up to save London's leather bar (June 2016)

Categories: venues

Monday 03 December, Nigel, aka SubDirectory (3). Updated 22 May, 11:31 by Nigel, aka SubDirectory (3)