As the night tube launches, London mayor Sadiq Khan and other major players tell how the capital is gearing up for the new night-time economy

Im really excited that at last were going to have a night tube, says the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. Until now, innumerable nights out in the capital have been brought to a premature end by the last train: after midnight, normally quick journeys become impossible odysseys. Uber has provided a welcome (if costly) alternative, but the biggest change to Londoners nightlife will be the advent of the 24-hour tube on Friday. On Fridays and Saturdays, underground trains will run every 10 or 20 minutes on the Central and Victoria lines (Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly will follow in the autumn).

Khan continues: As far as Im concerned, its a win-win situation. London is the theatre capital of the world, we have fantastic concerts, we have some of the worlds best restaurants and hotels, so its about connecting those dots. Four out of five tourists come to London because of our cultural offer, and you cant have a situation where people are worried about how they get home.

The night tube will provide a valuable boost to Londons night-time economy, and later this year Khan will announce a night tsar, who will champion the importance of the citys nightlife while balancing the needs of businesses, workers, residents and party-goers.

Similar positions exist in Paris, Toulouse and Zurich, but perhaps the most established is former club promoter Mirik Milan, who has been night mayor of Amsterdam since 2013. Milan believes a vibrant night-time economy benefits a city from social, cultural and economic perspectives: Socially, its about people meeting: were looking more at our screens than looking people in the eye, so its really important. Culturally, look at the club scene in New York in the 1980s it was a home to the LGBT community, where they could express themselves. And economically, if companies are thinking Where will I place my new headquarters, theyre looking at schooling, housing, social structures, but also at what there is to do. Not everybody moves to London for the weather. If you want to be competitive, leisure and hospitality is much more important nowadays.

No sweat: getting home from a nights clubbing in London will be easier. Photograph: PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images

Policy thinker and writer Ben Rogers, director of think tank Centre for London, suggests that to maximise efficiency, Londons infrastructure should be put to use throughout the night, for example with night-time deliveries to reduce levels of congestion, or by using space inventively. You walk down Oxford Street, arguably the worlds most famous retail street, at 9.30pm, and its absolutely dead, theres no after-hours offer, you cant get a drink. Why isnt John Lewis turning its ground floor into a series of pop-up eateries? If were going to get serious about this, theres huge potential to do things in a creative and interesting way.

The night-time economy made up of pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants, music venues and so on is the UKs fifth biggest industry: according to economic research consultancy TBR, it accounts for 1.3m jobs, and has a yearly revenue of 66bn (6% of the UK total). This week a report for independent body London First estimated that Londons night-time economy could be worth nearly 30bn annually by 2030. Khan says: Bearing in mind the jobs it creates and the businesses it supports, a night-time economy is part and parcel of being one of the worlds greatest cities, and thats why its important that we allow it to flourish and thrive rather than be at risk. If were not careful, other cities from Amsterdam to Paris to Berlin to New York to Tokyo will overtake us, which will mean bad news for our economy.

In March this year the former London mayor, Boris Johnson, set up the Night Time Commission, an investigation into how to protect and manage Londons night-time economy, which will report its findings in the autumn. Its members are diverse: local councillors, TfL staff, Home Office representatives, club owners and various creatives, including Undertones vocalist Feargal Sharkey. How does everyone get along? Its taken a bit of time, says Alan Miller, NTC member and former owner of Vibe Bar in east London. Everyone had their concerns initially but theyre starting to recognise that its bigger than any one of us or our groups. Most of the police recognise that its far better to have things lit up, with eyes and ears on the street.

But negotiating something that works for everyone isnt easy: a balance needs to be found between revellers and residents, who tend to have conflicting needs. Jo Negrini, NTC member and chief executive of Croydon council, says: The night tube is going to increase peoples participation at night in London generally, which is a really good thing. But how do you balance that with the big issue of residential amenity? That will be the biggest challenge: wanting people to enjoy the city 24 hours a day but also being clear that its a place where people do other things, live, work, enjoy outdoor spaces, use the city in a whole range of different ways.

The NTC is also looking at diversifying nightlife: boutiques, yoga, gyms, cafes, bookshops, poetry nights. More varied activities would attract a range of ages at night, but it also means more people working late. Transport for London estimates the night tube will support 2,000 additional permanent jobs and boost the economy by 360m. It will also make commuting easier for Londoners who already work nights. Khan says: There are thousands of Londoners who work through the night nurses, doctors, bodyguards, porters and many of them take two or three night buses to get to work.

Negrini believes that, although it will have an impact for councils in terms of basic services such as street cleaning and waste disposal, the night tube will have positive effects on areas outside of Londons Zone 1. Its about decentralising everything: what you would want is an increase in opportunities for people in terms of employment and generating economies in places like Croydon and at the different ends of the tube lines.

Thousands have to work at night, and London should be friendlier to them, say campaigners Photograph: Martin Argles for the Observer

Nevertheless, night work comes with its own problems: it has been associated with health issues including obesity, diabetes and breast cancer, and adverse effects on home life and relationships. It is also a source of unhappiness for many who have it thrust upon them: after plans for the night tube were announced, tube drivers were involved in a number of controversial strikes. This, said RMT general secretary Mick Cash, was to protect their work/life balance and not fall into a trap where they will be forced to wreck their home lives in order to […] plug the staffing gaps in the night tube plans.

Keeping all this in mind, Ben Rogers suggests increasing minimum wage and living wage rates for night work: Im all for night-time activity in London but I think its important to attend to the welfare of night workers. A higher rate of pay would take into account some of the costs associated with shift work.

Another central concern is safety: with the police increasingly stretched, and predictions that sex offences will rise on the night tube, keeping Londoners safe will be a challenge. In March, British Transport Police identified 12 red stations at risk of increased crime and antisocial behaviour, which will receive extra patrols, and announced that 100 officers would be patrolling the 144 open stations, which will continue to be staffed. Its really important that people feel safe using the night tube, says Khan. Well be announcing additional officers in London when full services are under way, with at least as many officers out during the night as would be during the day.

Mirik Milan acknowledges that nightlife has both an upside and a downside but feels that the problems need to be addressed pragmatically. One solution he implemented in Amsterdam was negotiating 24-hour licensing in 10 venues in and around the city: he argues that if you force everyone out of clubs at the same time, theyll still be full of energy, be annoyed and make noise, while unrestricted opening hours mean people leave gradually, quietly and in their own time. It was an amazing, tangible step forward for Amsterdam, and a lot of venues have benefited from it.

After a relaxation of UK licensing laws in 2005, it is theoretically possible to serve alcohol 24 hours a day in Britain, but venues need to follow the regulations set by their local council. As a result, many pubs still stop serving at 11pm. Negrini thinks that Londons local licensing regulations will absolutely need to be reviewed. All the local authorities need to be working together on that to make sure that theres a common approach across the city.

Alan Miller is leading a campaign, #nightlifematters, encouraging local residents who value nightlife to write to their MPs and councillors so that they dont just hear the complaints side. Its about getting the voice of the silent majority to be heard, he says. Nightlife is also an important part of individual and national identity, adds Miller: Quite rightly, when the Bataclan happened, people in France said: This is who we are, we go out, we eat, we drink and dance and socialise.

The night tube arrives at a difficult time in Britains after-hours scene, with 45% of UK nightclubs shutting down in the past 10 years and London losing 35% of its grassroots music venues between 2007 and 2015. Khan is planning a policy that protects music venues and nightclubs based on the agent of change principle: if housing developers are planning to build homes nearby, the cost of the noise insulation will fall to them. He adds: Were also going to make sure that planning law is such that if you want to change a music venue or a nightclub from what its currently being used for to luxury flats, you need to have very good reasons.

Expectations for the night tube are high, then, but Londons night-time economy wont be transformed overnight. Often people hope that when something changes, its like a magic wand, says Milan. But its always a slow process: you will only get behavioural change if people invest more in their communities, if they have more sense of belonging. But the night tube is a really good step forward, and I think London has the obligation to do it, to keep it liveable and attractive for young people.

For thousands of Londoners, young and old, Friday will be momentous. Will Khan be there? You betcha. The question is whether Ill be allowed to go in the drivers cabin or not.

Night-time economies around the world


As the techno capital of the world, Berlin is famed for its unregulated and never-ending nightlife. By banding together to form a club commission, more than 100 club owners have ensured that they speak with one voice and protect their cause. For example, new arrivals to an area cannot complain about noise that predated their move.

Buenos Aires

Evening meals starting at midnight, late-night ice -cream vendors, and 2am cinema screenings are just some of the things that are keeping residents, young and old, from heading home. But the citys night culture is increasingly under pressure: the Argentinian capital is one of the noisiest places on the planet, and the government is introducing fines for owners emitting noise in excess of 90 decibels.

Hong Kong

Finding bars and clubs open until 4am is not a problem in Hong Kong, one of the least regulated night-time economies on earth. But many licensed venues are struggling because of the competition they face from convenience stores selling cheap alcohol 24 hours a day. Venues are pushing the government to impose greater restrictions.


Responding to problems with alcohol-fuelled violence, the New South Wales government imposed a curfew on clubs and bars: no more customers after 1.30am and no alcohol after 3am. The restrictions had mixed results: while street incidents were cut by 40%, footfall in the whole district plummeted by 82% last year, and 40 clubs have closed.

Clubbing in Tokyo. Photograph: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images


New regulations came into force in June this year, letting clubs apply for a licence to stay open until 5am, and overturning a 67-year-old law forbidding dancing in clubs after midnight. To keep locals on side, a campaign called Playcool was recently set up, encouraging artists and musicians to get together and clean the streets before dawn.
Harri Davies

Read more: