Leadmill: Sheffield music venue at centre of battle for new licence amid fears for future

The Leadmill in Sheffield - an iconic city music venue that was the subject of a licensing application to Sheffield City Council by the building leasehold owners (Photo: BBC)
The Leadmill in Sheffield - an iconic city music venue that was the subject of a licensing application to Sheffield City Council by the building leasehold owners (Photo: BBC)

Sheffield City Council’s licensing committee (September 18) heard objections from Leadmill staff, community groups and businesses. The barrister acting for Leadmill owner Phil Mills accused building owner, company boss Dominic Madden, of “arrogance” in his actions because “he knows Elton John”.

Mr Madden and his solicitor refuted the allegations and said that the relationship with the Save the Leadmill campaign and Mr Mills as chief objector had become “toxic”.

Mr Madden is the co-head of a company that runs nightlife venues Electric Brixton in London, SWX in Bristol and NX in Newcastle. The firm also owns the freehold of the Leadmill building.

Supporters of the Save the Leadmill campaign gathered outside Sheffield Town Hall ahead of the hearing to protest and watched proceedings from the public gallery. The three-member committee is going through all the evidence and will give its verdict at a later date.

Mr Madden’s company MVL Properties 2017 Ltd has applied for a shadow licence to operate the venue once it has evicted the Leadmill from the Leadmill Road premises where the club has operated since 1980. During the hearing there was reference made to proceedings due to take place in the High Court at Leeds to settle commercial issues around the building.

A shadow licence protects the rights of the landlord to continue operating licensed premises in a venue after tenants move out.

Frazer Spooner objected on behalf of Leadmill staff. He said: “The current Leadmill team is a young, driven, endlessly creative collective of minds that aren’t here just because it’s a job to do, but because we are all completely committed to delivering memories and experiences of the calibre that we have grown accustomed to as Leadmill customers.”

Dominic Heslop, artist, rapper and social engagement practitioner, said he works with the Leadmill. He said: “Many of the young people we have engaged with are from precarious backgrounds, immersed in trauma, child exploitation and serious youth violence.
“The Leadmill is an integral part in our nurturing relationship between community, young people, culture, and industry. Their influence has enabled more creative opportunities for young people that would not ordinarily have the access.”
He added: “There is no evidence that The Electric Group has any interest or is capable of nurturing communities or young people. The well-documented incidents of violence, failure to safeguard young people, prevention of crime and disorder have been breached on numerous occasions, into serious acts of lawlessness.”

Sam Holland, director of Migration Matters music festival, said: “Over the last few years we have partnered with team at The Leadmill to deliver a number of events which have positively impacted the multicultural and diverse communities across the city.”
He stated: “If this licence is granted it tarnishes our brilliant city’s reputation and for one of the country’s best-loved venues to be in the wrong hands.”

Rob Unwin, who works for Ethical Property at Scotia Works next door, said his company and their tenants work with many vulnerable people including young people and has an excellent relationship with the Leadmill that has never given him any cause for concern.

He said: “But to have new people coming in who we don’t know, have not spoken to us, have made no attempt to speak to the local community as far as I am aware, couples with their reputation of overselling tickets, not having a designated premises supervisor, inadequate additional conditions, is of huge concern to me and the other tenants and neighbours.”

The sub-committee considered hundreds of pages of documents, including newspaper reports and online reviews that made allegations of violent incidents, sexual assaults and overcrowding at venues run by the company.

Sarah Clover, barrister for the Leadmill, said: “There is an arrogance that sits behind this application and it is evinced not least in the statement that Mr Madden has put forward to support it and it sounds a little bit like ‘I’m Dominic Madden, I know my stuff and I know Elton John so there’s no reason for me to consider the Sheffield statement of licensing policy, I don’t need to do that’.”

In her summing up she said: “Mr Madden relies pretty much entirely on his gift of the gab, his romantic theatrical back story with the Elton John soundtrack, his white knight chequebook that’s going to come in and pay for everything – and threats, which is a new tack – further defamation proceedings, even apparently for participating on this democratic process, there could be further defamation proceedings, which is ugly.”

Questioned by Coun Karen McGowan about the negative reviews and press reports, Mr Madden responded that Electric Brixton is next to the police licensing department: “We’re an incredibly high-profile building, it is an 1,800-capacity venue, so when we do gigs and club nights, so when it’s busy it’s very obviously busy and the police licensing team work very closely with our event management staff.

“I don’t want to make light of this, in fact I take it incredibly seriously, but I’m there, my office is there, I’m there during the evening during shows and my teams take this very, very seriously.”

He added: “The idea that we’re some sort of dodgy cowboy outfit that operates dodgy events, that pushes people in and allows promoters to oversell tickets is just nonsense.”

He praised the Save the Leadmill campaign but said it had “crossed the line” in terms of some of the tactics used in targeting him in particular.

He asked: “What’s to stop them sending some kid down to Brixton and go in and write a bad review? I’m not saying they’ve done that but how do we know they haven’t?”

He also said: “There’s something almost Trumpian about all this. Facts don’t matter.”

Solicitor-advocate Paddy Whur, representing Mr Madden, said the evidence that he was not a fit and proper operator could not be relied on and London night-time czar Amy Lame was among those supporting the company’s venues.

He said that Mr Madden has a “fantastic relationship” with authorities he works with and has invested multi-million pounds in venues that he had taken forward when he became the operator. “You’ve got a responsible operator whoi’s got a fabulous track record and he wants to invest in these premises in Sheffield to do what he’s done elsewhere.”