It is a battle which has pitched a revered Glasgow clubbing institution against Britain’s largest pub chain.
Over the last three years, bosses at the Sub Club on the city’s Jamaica Street have spent more than £45,000 fighting proposals for a hotel development on a neighbouring site, fearing it threatens the club’s future.
But an investigation by The Ferret can reveal it was family members of a Sub Club director who sold the site to JD Wetherspoon, the pub chain behind the hotel plans that club owners are now battling against.
Records show that in 2014, Wetherspoons purchased a vacant site next to the Sub Club for £1.15 million. Two years later, plans were submitted to transform the derelict site – as well as the upper floors of the neighbouring Wetherspoons pub, the Crystal Palace – into a hotel.
Describing the development as a “serious threat” to their existence, the club’s owners have argued that it fails to take into account the noise caused by the club and other licensed premises in the vicinity. Fears that existing venues would not be sufficiently protected if hotel occupants made noise complaints saw the owners launch into a costly legal fight.
It has now emerged that the vacant site which sits between the Sub Club and the Crystal Palace pub, at 24-30 Jamaica Street, was sold to JD Wetherspoon by the parents of Sub Club director Barry Price. Records from the Land Register of Scotland show a joint purchase of the site in 2007 for £800,000.
Martha Price then became the sole owner of the site the following year, before a sale to the Wetherspoons pub chain for £1.15m six years later, a profit of £350,000. The land remained vacant throughout.
Barry Price, her son, has been a director of the Sub Club since 2008 and oversees the venue’s programming, with a 40 per cent stake in the club.
One of Scotland’s most well-known night clubs, the Sub Club first opened in 1987. With a capacity of just over 400, it regularly features on lists of the world’s best night clubs, bringing leading international DJs – as well as a roster of popular residents – to Glasgow audiences.
Club owners have argued that the Subbie, as it is affectionately known by staff and regulars, is an important piece of urban heritage that was threatened by the plans for an adjoining hotel if adequate soundproofing was not put in place.
Having been shut since Covid-19 lockdown measures came into force in March, the club recently warned that they could have to close their doors permanently, after payroll complications meant they were unable to access the UK government’s job retention wage subsidy scheme.
However, an online fundraiser to save the club met its target in six hours and is currently sitting at over £188,000, from more than 4,000 contributions. The crowdfunding appeal highlighted the hotel development as among the difficulties that the club has faced, citing the £45,000 that has been spent challenging it.
Although they had received permission for a hotel in an earlier application, Wetherspoons resubmitted their plans in September 2019, proposing a large beer garden on the vacant site and a scaled down 28-room hotel on the disused upper floors of the Crystal Palace. It had originally proposed building a 97-room hotel.
The club’s supporters have argued that this still poses a threat to the club. An objection letter from the Music Venue Trust says that Wetherspoons have “failed to recognise the existence” of the Sub Club in its plans, and that the application is inconsistent with the Agent of Change principle.
The principle was adopted in planning law by the Scottish Government last year, after lobbying by the Sub Club and other venues, and aims to protect music venues by placing the onus on developers to soundproof new buildings.
An earlier application for a hotel on the gap site between the Sub Club and the Crystal Palace was made in June 2008. Although recommended for approval by council planners, the application was then withdrawn.
Barry Price told The Ferret: “My parents bought the vacant site next to Sub Club in 2007 and gained outline planning permission for a hotel development the following year. The site then fell dormant following the 2008 global financial crash after which my parents were unable to successfully progress suitable proposals.”
Price added that Sub Club drew up plans to subdivide the vacant site with Wetherspoons in 2013, with a smoking area and beer gardens. This was rejected by the pub chain, who instead offered to purchase the site to build a “Wetherspoons Training Academy”, which was accepted by the owners.
The Sub Club has said that it does not object to the principle of a hotel on the site, and that their concerns primarily relate to a lack of soundproofing.
Price said: “We have always welcomed the development of the site, which has been an eyesore for more than 20 years and does no favours to ourselves or other neighbouring businesses.”
“A properly designed and constructed hotel would most certainly be of benefit to the area, and with due consideration given to noise mitigation from the outset, this would be entirely consistent with our own best interests.”
Ed Gillett, a journalist who writes on dance music and club culture for The Quietus, told The Ferret that music venues are facing pressures on a number of fronts.
He said: “Dance music venues across the UK have faced a really challenging time over the last 10 years, whether related to austerity politics, noise complaints, gentrification or multiple other pressures.
“Somewhere in the region of 25 per cent of the country’s nightclubs have folded in the last decade, with Covid-19 potentially forcing many more to close in the near future,” he added.
“Against that very worrying backdrop, and given Glasgow’s loss of spaces like the Arches, in many ways it’s good to see Sub Club securing the funding it needs to survive.
Gillett continued: “At the same time, the media have historically been a bit reluctant to look in detail at the management of dance music venues.
“When considering the threats to businesses like Sub Club, whose financial backing potentially offers them more options than smaller spaces (particularly those catering to marginalised groups) it’s important for us to consider the role played by their owners in facing those challenges.”
This story was updated at 14.58 on 16 August 2020 to include further comment from Ed Gillet who asked for the last two pars of copy to be added.