To: pdimoldenberg @ quatro-consults.co.uk
Cc: andy.hull @ islington.gov.uk; theresa.debono @ islington.gov.uk; richard.greening @ islington.gov.uk
To whom it may concern,
I recently received a leaflet informing local residents of a planning application on behalf of Arsenal stadium to increase the number of ‘rap, hip-hop and rock concerts’ taking place each year from three to nine. It would be fair to describe the leaflet as strongly negative in tone, going so far as to suggest that ‘tens of thousands of Islington residents will have their Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings ruined on three weekends in July or August’.
In the interests of full disclosure, I have no personal or financial relationship with Arsenal. I have never attended a stadium-sized rap, hip-hop or rock concert, nor do I have any plans to do so. Meanwhile, I reside about as close to Arsenal’s stadium as is possible without living in a railway station (something which I do not recommend) and my working hours are 9am-6pm, Mon-Fri. (I mention this fact solely to highlight that I presumably fall into the category of residents for whom ‘hours of loud music’ may ‘make it impossible to relax and prepare for work’ according to the leaflet – although I suppose that this only really applies in relation to Sunday concerts.)
However, in the interests of civic duty I shall now attempt to put aside these personal factors to perform a disinterested analysis of the question at hand: should planning permission for such an extension be granted?
We must begin with some philosophical assumptions. Although Bentham’s utilitarian desire of the “greatest happiness of the greatest number” cannot give a full picture of our moral responsibilities as human beings, it should nonetheless provide a rough and ready guide to the costs and benefits of local planning disputes. Furthermore, I shall ally this axiom with an assumption of equal human worth: I will assume, in a democratic spirit, that each person’s happiness is of equal value. Given that the objections raised in this leaflet almost entirely concern noise levels, I also intend to ignore economic concerns and concentrate simply on weighing ‘sound causing happiness’ against ‘sound causing unhappiness’.
Firstly, the benefits. Arsenal stadium has a capacity of roughly 60,000. It is reasonable to assume that (almost) all those attending a rap, hip-hop or rock concert enjoy the sound of these events, so the application to increase by six evenings equates to 360,000 collective evenings of enhanced happiness if we assume full stadium capacity. (Is it reasonable to make this assumption? I have checked this with someone familiar with such events, and he believes that it is – any further information would be greatly appreciated.) Now we need to make some measure of ‘how much’ extra happiness is generated. This is necessarily difficult to quantify, but I will assume that an evening at a concert which one has chosen to attend would bring a 50% uplift in happiness as measured against a baseline evening. In the round, I hope this does enough to balance sentiments of ‘I thought Coldplay were disappointing this time’ against ‘watching Coldplay, I approached true ecstasy’.
Now to the costs side of the equation. The population of Islington is about 200,000, with an area of roughly 15 square kilometres. I am no expert in sound levels (again, external contributions to the analysis would be warmly received) so will assume what I believe to be a fairly generous 1km radius of affected area around Arsenal stadium, or an area of 3.14 square kilometres and about 42,000 residents. (Yes, I have assumed an equal distribution of residents across the borough. There are only so many hours in the day.) Of course, not all residents would be in their homes during the evenings specified – particularly given the days involved – but then again, others might have guests over. (In fact, the problem of guests is specifically raised by those issuing the leaflet as concerts may make it “difficult for friends / delivery vans to visit”. As a side note, delivery vans on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings strike me as a niche problem.)
Estimating the loss of happiness to these 42,000 people is challenging, as – unlike the concert attendees – they are not self-selecting with regard to the concerts. The leaflet I have received talks of “ruined” evenings, but this is a subtly unhelpful term as it implies a near 100% reduction in happiness measured against what you might have hoped for over an evening, rather than what (on average) you actually get. (Indeed, I would conjecture that an individual whose enjoyment was actually, in a strictly technical sense, ‘ruined’ by the sound of a music concert – that is, their temporal happiness was so eroded as to induce genuine misery – would also be susceptible to many other threats to their happy evenings.)
However, we may be spared the necessity of in-depth calculations as our numbers have already revealed an impressive 360,000 collective evenings of enhanced happiness against 252,000 collective evenings of reduced happiness. Sticking with an assumption of a 50% ‘happiness uplift’ for the concert attendees, we would need a more than 70% reduction of happiness in the average resident to equal this, on each and every one of the six evenings in question.
I respectfully submit that this is unlikely. For one thing, it assumes that an evening of increased background noise brings significantly more upset than a concert, which you have specifically chosen to attend, brings more joy. For another, it assumes that all evenings are independent of each other. This is a reasonable assumption for the concert-goers: it is unlikely that very many of them will be the same people from night to night. But the residents are largely the same people from night to night and, even for those upset by the noise, they are unlikely to face the same level of fresh misery each night, by something they are used to, and have already factored into their daily lives, as something that is relatively rare. By analogy: an Islington council tax bill, while unpleasant, is expected. A random demand for the same amount, made without any warning, would be much worse.
Therefore, on the basis of the available evidence, I respectfully petition for the proposed extension to be granted.
So that others may critique the calculations involved, I also intend to place a copy of this analysis on my blog.