SeaFiSh Bognor Vs Arun District Council
SeaFiSh Bognor, the venue that through 2016 saw performances from The Members, Mark Morriss from The Bluetones, Eat Static, Jon Morter, Attila the Stockbroker and Blakefest amongst countless others, was closed by the authorities over the Christmas period.
From the get go, the Tory-run Arun District Council (ADC) had it in for SeaFiSh. SF was community-minded, into live music performance, cheap communal food, available art, dancing and conversation. There were flashing and whirling lights, occasionally repetitive beats, and a lot of love. The management were admittedly chaotic, well-meaning, generous, reasonably stylish and funky. The customers were by and large the same.
Within a couple of weeks, the standard checks were being carried out: kitchen, noise levels, licences, interior planning etc. The main issue was that the council didn’t appreciate the maverick, entrepreneurial-without-capitalism nature of SeaFiSh and how its runners went about it. The licensing officers were behaving like heavy-handed authoritarians of the highest order, demanding that the venue perform within a ‘classic’ restaurant framework – of which stultifying, unimaginative repression hadn’t been law since 1984.
Warnings and advice were heeded, improvements were made, enhanced soundproofing planned, because SeaFiSh WAS community minded, and wanted to be welcome and balm for the Aldwick road it found it was trying to help. The venue found itself extremely popular with the more culturally-minded residents of Bognor Regis, who’d never seen anything like the place in their town before. It was often commented on that it was the only destination in town that a female alone could go to and feel safe, and that was a badge of pride to everyone involved.
Gradually ADC narrowed SeaFiSh’s broad focus, repeatedly checking for food being served at 11pm on weekends after hugely popular shows, and positively fulminating over the existence of a STAGE in the corner of a restaurant. They seemed oblivious to the fact that licences for events with under 500 people (SF could only manage 80) hadn’t been law since 2012, and that in a mixed commercial/residential area, six complaints in six months – apparently mostly due to occasional outside chat – wasn’t bad at all, and certainly not licence-losing-worthy.
Eventually the designated premises supervisor was bailed on the alcohol-without-food issue to appear later in court, and there was a licence hearing at which her near hour-long deposition – and the true facts within it – were ignored. Soon after this – despite a couple of legendary gigs the like of which Bognor will probably never see again – the police enacted a closure order on closed premises, citing the potential for public disorder. The battle was won by the ADC’s self-admittedly ‘Draconian’ authority move, but the cultural war for positivity and progressive, punk rock energy and spirit continues regardless. There is a light that never goes out.
Follow SeaFiSh, Ish, Blakefest and WildeFest here
Follow SBwP on Twitter here