Arsenal Concert Plans

To: pdimoldenberg @
Cc: andy.hull @; theresa.debono @; richard.greening @

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.

Yours sincerely,

Dominic Self

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6 Comments on :
Arsenal Concert Plans

  1. Brendan says:

    Your analysis is inaccurate because:
    1. There are numerous tall residential tower-blocks within 1km radius of the stadium making it a particularly densely populated area. Hence your estimate of 42,000 souls is way off.
    2. You are only comparing the concert-goers’ 50% higher utility vs residents’ 50% lower utility that evening. What about the higher litter the day after a concert? What about the sound checks in the days leading up? What about, and this is the big one, the general feeling that a nice, quiet part of London during the summer is being fundamentally changed by 360,000 transient visitors. This last one pushes Bentham’s measure against Arsenal’s extension to nine concerts every summer since it is felt every day in the run up to and in the years following the extension.

  2. Thomas says:

    Crudely put (I conceed), you are saying that the happiness (benefit) to concert goers is greater than the unhappiness (cost) of the defenceless residents and so, you petition that the extensions be granted? By that “logic” a poor individual with no money should be able to take (by theft or robbery) from a comparatively wealthy individual so long as the benefit to the thief is greater than the loss to the victim? It’s an interesting approach, but not persuasive.

  3. Red Dalek says:

    Someone once stole my phone using just such a justification. I didn’t find it wholly persuasive, either, but then again it was nice of them to be philosophical about it.

    I could argue that there are certainly some people (hi!) who derive real joy from the existence of ‘transient visitors’ and have never found this city to be a ‘nice, quiet’ capital: rather a big, messy, noisy one. But that’s not the point, because I’m not everyone.

    And that’s my real point, under the silliness. Nothing in that leaflet acknowledged that real people, with no malicious intent, might get some pleasure from these concerts. That’s not nothing. It might come at a cost to other some people which is why everyone should be free to debate it, as you are, perfectly reasonably. We might well come down on different sides. I’m just happier if the ‘other’ side is seen as a fairly mundane set of competing social trade-offs, rather than an inexplicably immoral force.

  4. Thomas says:

    The happiness of concerts could be achieved at venues more appropriately located than between the generally quiet and peaceful residential streets of Highbury and around.
    The non-malicious ‘transient visitors’ would be most welcome to relax in the sun (eventually) on “the Fields”, kick a ball around, convene a picnic or even (responsibly) a BBQ etc. but rocking to megawatts in (virtually) our back gardens till late at night, and all the rest that goes with it, is an entirely different prospect.
    It is not the non malicious concert goers who are applying for the extension – it is profit-hungry Arsenal. There is noting inexplicable about their motives, but I would take a lot of convincing that happiness of concert goers, let alone residents ranks high on their list of objectives.

  5. Red Dalek says:

    But within our current conceptions of liberty, you can only judge a proposal which has actually been proposed – not whether some other course of action would be a better or worse outcome. Otherwise all planning applications would have to consider an infinite set of other hypothetical applications, even though no one was actually applying to make them.

    Your second point is interesting because of the switch from consequentialism to deontology and intentionality. (Try saying that after a few drinks.)

    That Arsenal are motivated by profit, rather than the happiness of concert goers, is unarguable. However, I fail to see the relevance: does that make the happiness of concert goers less valid or real? It’s perhaps also worth pointing out that to be ‘profit-hungry’ is a legal obligation of publicly listed companies such as Arsenal. Moreover, that society as a whole can benefit from self-interested profit maximisation has been much been at the heart of our economic systems for several hundred years. You’re welcome to object, but I feel it may be a little above the jurisdiction of Islington council.

    (Anyone who wants to discuss the quite charmingly bonkers poetry in Bernard Mandeville’s ‘The Fable of the Bees’, which touches on precisely this point, is welcome to join me for an argumentative session in the pub.)

  6. Elonor says:

    Dear All
    Since the Arsenal move, if I remember correctly, in 2004, the residents of Highbury Hill and further afield since the continued expansion of Arsenal & Islington Council to build luxury flats and estates, have been subjected to endless noise and disruption, this planned increase in concert numbers, is just another (excuse the double pun) brick in the wall for these two organisations against the local residents. Now I am fully aware (due to painful personal experience) that there are a lot of local residents that dont appear to mind (either they work during the day or love Arsenal so much) the noise & disruption. I personally can not believe what these two organisations have been allowed to get away with, such as the new Highbury Square properties looking down on to our back gardens & in our houses (equally I can see into theirs too), loud PA systems for Highbury Square residents parties making it impossible to spend anytime in my garden, nursery (on beautiful sunny days, when I have been lucky enough to have a day off its so nice to hear the endless screaming and shouting of children & the staff looking after them, when they couldve put this nursery on the inside of the Highbury Square development and at least not subject us to that noise) , window cleaning in noisy lifts, being woken up before and around 8am, for years, by large lorries racing up & down our road and reversing with that irritating siren noise! Their builders who would also routinely walk up and down our road, shouting & swearing and leering at us unfortunate women having to get ourselves to the train station or local shops etc, these are to name the most infuriating issues I have experienced since their work began. I have lived in Highbury, on & off since 1974 and, funny enough, when the now, Highbury Square development, was the Arsenal Stadium, we had minimal noise and disruption which was limited solely to when there were games (approximately twice a week) no building work, nursery, huge influx of people moving to Highbury etc) it was a very peaceful place to live, especially given that we are located in a fairly central part of London, I know that nothing stays the same & couldve easily accepted some elements of what we have been subjected to, but I do find it concerning that there appears to be no bounds as to what Arsenal & Islington Council are prepared to subject their council tax paying, local residents to with no regard to our quality of life. When the the first (& I am assuming sold out) Coldplay concert occurred I was working in the Assembly Hall (Islington Town Hall) and none of my colleagues could gain entry to Highbury & Islington & Angel train stations, or get on any of the buses as they were full to capacity between 11.30 – 12am). The band were sound checking during the day (3 days) and the concerts and FLOODS of people hit us during the evening and also the bright lights of the stadium were left on for the duration of these three days, lighting up the whole skyline, no stars in sight & the poor birds didnt know if it was day or night and told us so! Basically it was a very disruptive experience and seeing as the agreement (the below if pasted from the Arsenal concerts consultation, dated October 2012
    “There shall be no more than 6 non-association
    football single day major events (of which a maximum of
    3 could be music concert events) in any 12 month period
    of which total no more than one shall be on a Sunday
    and not more than one on a Bank Holiday.”

    It seems that what ever Arsenal proposes, Arsenal gets, despite what any of its residents think/feel….Islington is alot more than just a football club…..unless there was another proposal I missed?!?!
    I hope we will at least get a fair hearing on this

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