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War of words continues around Sheffield’s Leadmill venue as landlord applies for premises licence

By | Published on Friday 19 May 2023

The Leadmill

The current operators of The Leadmill in Sheffield have asked their supporters to formally object to a licence application by their landlords, the Electric Group, which is seeking to directly manage the venue. Meanwhile, the boss of the Electric Group has issued a new statement accusing the venue’s current management of deliberately misleading people through their communications around the ongoing dispute between landlord and tenant.

The existing Leadmill team announced in March last year that they had been given a year to vacate the premises by The Electric Group, which acquired the building that houses the venue in 2017. The landlord – which already runs venues in London, Bristol and Newcastle – wants to start directly managing The Leadmill rather than renting the building to the venue’s current management team.

That current management team have since done a pretty good job of rallying the support of both artists and the Sheffield music community, calling on the Electric Group to abandon its plan to take direct control of The Leadmill.

However, the Electric Group reckons that – with said campaign – it is often being incorrectly implied that it, as the owner of the building, wants to close down the venue, rather than having it continue to operate but with a new management team in place.

And given the widespread concerns within the music community about the closure of grassroots venues, that possible confusion is winning the current Leadmill team more support.

It’s worth noting that the latest statement from the current team begins by saying “as many of you are aware, our landlords have issued The Leadmill with an eviction notice in order to operate from this location themselves”, which is a decent summary of what is happening.

Although it doesn’t specifically say upfront that The Electric Group plans to operate a music venue in the building, even if that is implied later on.

And the new statement does then say “if they are successful, this would result in The Leadmill ceasing to exist after 43 years”. Which is technically true, in that The Leadmill in its current form would definitely cease to operate, and the name may need to be changed once the new management take over – although that’s currently the subject of a side dispute. But you can possibly see how people might nevertheless be confused by that messaging.

Anyway, more than a year has now passed since the current management team was given its one year notice to vacate, and that team is currently still running and programming the venue. But The Electric Group is nevertheless still planning on taking over the management of the space and, to that end, has now applied for a premises licence from Sheffield City Council.

It was that licence application that prompted the latest statement from the current Leadmill team earlier this week. It reads: “Our landlords have recently moved forward with their plans to evict The Leadmill by applying for their own premises licence. A premises licence enables a business to be able to provide entertainment and sell alcohol and is regulated locally by Sheffield City Council”.

Noting that “without a premises licence, a venue cannot operate”, the statement adds: “The general public are able to object to a premises licence application if they are aware of any relevant reasons as to why it should not be granted”. It then explains how supporters of the current Leadmill team might go about making such an objection.

An emotional attachment to the current management team is not a “relevant reason” for objecting to a licence application. “An objection must be based on one, or more, of the four licensing objectives”, the new statement confirms, those being: “the prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; the prevention of public nuisance; the protection of children from harm”.

So any supporters of the current Leadmill team will need to identify objections that meet those criteria. “You can make comments based on your understanding of the landlord’s experience and competence”, the statement explains. “You may be assisted in your understanding by Googling relevant reviews and press reports about the operation of the landlord’s current nightclubs. These are: Electric Brixton, SWX Bristol and NX Newcastle”.

In his response to these latest developments, Electric Group boss Dominic Madden insists there are no legitimate reasons to object to his company’s licence application in Sheffield.

“We have been running licensed venues since 2003 and have never had any issue or licence review”, he says, according to NME. “Our venues in London, Newcastle and Bristol host hundreds of gigs and events every year for thousands of music fans. Our team has many years of experience running venues, producing theatre and promoting gigs”.

And as for the ongoing campaign being led by the current Leadmill management team, he reckons: “The current Leadmill campaign is unfortunately misleading people into thinking we want to close the venue with no regard for its history”.

“That is not the case. In fact, we want to invest in the future of the space – albeit one which will mark the start of a new chapter for a building which has many generations of history with a variety of different operators since it was first a flour mill”.

“When we purchased the freehold for the Leadmill in 2017”, he goes on, “it was threatened with redevelopment into flats. We didn’t want that to happen, so we stepped in to buy it and save it – something the leaseholder was not prepared to do”.

“As we have always maintained, we intend to continue operating the space as a music venue, focussing on a diverse mix of gigs, club nights and comedy events”, he insists.

“We’re an independent music venue operator which is committed to music and investing in venues. We hope to be a great custodian of the venue for the next generation. We recognise the roots of The Leadmill within the community and we are determined to see it succeed and thrive”.