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People on a night out in London often face a “go hard or go home” dilemma as the clock strikes midnight — join the exodus for the last Tube, or stay out late in a club with the prospect of a long night-bus or expensive taxi trip home.
The new night Tube service hopes to change this while boosting the city’s struggling nocturnal economy in the process. The first ever night Tube will leave Brixton on the Victoria line this Saturday at 12.34am. The plan is for the Victoria and most of the Central line to run all night at weekends, while the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines will offer the service later this year.
“The night Tube will make it safer and easier to enjoy London’s nightlife,” said London mayor Sadiq Khan. Nearly half of the capital’s clubs and live music venues have closed in the past eight years, despite London’s booming population, he said.
Too often, these venues find themselves under threat from new development and red tape,” said Mr Khan. “I will be appointing a new night tsar, and together we will work with the venues, authorities, developers and punters to ensure London thrives as a 24-hour-city.”
The later Tube services also promise to give Londoners the option of lingering in pubs beyond midnight — but only if a pub’s licence allows it. Despite the theoretical adoption of “24-hour drinking” a decade ago, in practice opening hours are limited to what is permitted by the local council, with many places closing around midnight.
A study published by business lobby group London First and EY this week said economic activity at night supported one in eight jobs in London and accounted for about 8 per cent of its economy. Transport for London said more than half of people who take night buses use them for going to or from work.
“Inner London is one of the most economically productive areas in Europe, anything we can do to encourage that to work longer and more intensively is a good thing,” said policy director John Dickie.
“The diversity of things you can do in your spare time in London is a big part of the city’s attraction — everything from high art to low sleaze, from jaw-droppingly expensive to free. Anything that threatens some of it threatens all of it.”
Club owners blame local councils, acting on residents’ complaints, and the police for the shrinking of their industry in London. “It’s seen as a problem to be managed rather than a vital part of our economy and culture that is to be encouraged,” said Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers.
The Local Data Company told the FT the number of nightclubs in London had fallen 15 per cent since 2012, to 134. The number of pubs was down 10 per cent to 3,620.
The latest club to face closure is Fabric, shut temporarily while police investigate drug allegations. Islington councillors will decide in the coming weeks whether to shut it permanently.
Most power in London local government rests with 33 relatively small councils. Critics say this means they care more about the complaints of their residents than what is good for the city as a whole.
“The most powerful people affecting London nightlife are councillors, who only listen to their residents, and borough [police] commanders, who only care about reducing crime,” said an owner of several London nightclubs. “If any borough commander is faced with a choice of closing a club down or not, he’ll close it down. Someone loses their phone, or some idiot punches another idiot — it’s not a serious crime but it’s still crime.”
The nightclub owner, who declined to be named, added that he thought the night Tube would help disperse crowds more quickly and easily.
Westminster council, which controls London’s West End, said: “We will wait to see the long-term impact of the night Tube before making any changes to our licensing operation.”
Several other big cities have night trains. New York’s Subway runs at all times, Berlin’s U-Bahn and most suburban trains run all hours at weekends, Stockholm’s metro runs all hours at weekends and Barcelona has an all-night Saturday service.
“I think the night Tube will democratise the night-time and make it less of a taboo, and hopefully encourage a more creative attitude to nightclubs,” he said. “It’ll make clubs more accessible and open them up to people from different neighbourhoods. It’s a great development for London, but I don’t think there’s going to be a sudden miraculous change, we need the other parts of the equation to change, and those are licensing and planning.”
London was not about to become Berlin anytime soon, he said. “A lot of Berlin’s creativity derives from its history but also from [having] space and time. London’s creativity comes from the innovation that comes from overcoming obstacles, and pressure on space.”