On Blackheath music festival gets court go-ahead

Plans for a two-day music festival on Blackheath have been upheld by magistrates, who threw out an appeal against it being granted a licence.

Bromley magistrates dismissed the appeal brought by the Blackheath Society against Lewisham Council, which granted a 10-year licence to Nimby Events Ltd last year.

The society now faces an £80,000 legal bill following the seven day hearing, the longest appeal ever heard under current licensing laws.

This year’s festival, due to attract 50,000 people over two days, was abandoned because of the lengthy court case, but organisers are now planning to hold the first On Blackheath festival in September 2012.

Despite the rejection of the appeal, Lewisham Council came in for criticism in the magistrates’ ruling. They said there was “little evidence” the council conducted its consultation into the festival licence in an “open and transparent manner”.

Lewisham approved the event at a licensing sub-committee meeting in October – but a large number of local people in both Lewisham and Greenwich boroughs were “totally unaware” of the application, they said.

The festival is due to be held on the western side of the heath, between the Territorial Army base at Holly Hedge House and Shooters Hill Road, on the boundary of the two boroughs.

Furthermore, the magistrates branded Lewisham’s failure to formally notify Greenwich Council of the application “astonishing”. Festival organisers had informed Greenwich of their plans – but officers at the neighbouring authority, whose boundary runs just metres away from the festival site, were left waiting in vain for Lewisham to inform them when a full application was made.

While it had complied with the Licensing Act 2003, magistrates Roger Mills and Dr Patrick Davies said “Lewisham, through its licensing sub-committee, as not acted in an appropriate manner and has not had the interests of some of its residents at heart”.

But concerns about public order and noise at the event were dismissed by the magistrates, who noted the “days when events would have banks of speakers on a stage facing the audience” were gone, and were confident sound control firm Vanguardia would be able to mitigate any problems with noise.

Counsel for Nimby Events had asked the magistrates to award the full £140,000 costs of the hearing to the Blackheath Society, but the magistrates declined, saying the appeal had been “properly brought and Parliament had intended residents to have a say in the licensing process”.

It was revealed in the hearing that the society, which has a membership of 980 families, has assets of around £400,000, partly tied up in local property. Nimby Events’ Tom Wates, Terry Felgate and Alex Wicks were described in court by their counsel Simon Taylor as “local family men” who were funding their legal costs from their own pockets – they will be liable for most of the remainder of the costs.

Speaking before the costs ruling, Nimby’s Alex Wicks said he and his fellow organisers were “pleased” the festival could go ahead.

“We’re looking forward to working with the whole community, including the Blackheath Society and the Blackheath Joint Working Party. We very much want this to be a community event.”

He added that they were looking to hold concerts at Blackheath Halls during the winter as a build-up to the festival. “The halls need all the help they can get, and hopefully we can get it sold out for three nights.”

Blackheath Society chairman Howard Shields said that Lewisham’s decision to revise its policy on holding events on the heath showed the appeal had not been completely in vain.

“Our grouse all along has been with the way Lewisham has handled it,” he said.

“We have never said there should never be anything on Blackheath. But if we’re going into an era of having big commercial events on Blackheath, then there should be proper scrutiny.”

The decision to begin the appeal was taken by its management committee after an overwhelming response against the festival on its e-mail list, he added.

Asked about those who backed the event, Mr Shields said: “Nobody has written to us asking, why did you do this?”

However, he conceded there was a feeling the society had lost touch with younger people, and needed to “broaden our communication abilities” in future. (A full statement is on the Blackheath Bugle.)

Festival organisers will now be looking to find a suitable date for On Blackheath, with the Paralympic Games equestrian events taking place in Greenwich Park during early September 2012. Earlier this year, Tom Wates told this website the event could bring up to £1m of custom for local firms.

(Read past stories about the On Blackheath Festival saga.)

22 comments

  1. ThePirateKing

    Amazed that the Society has such reserves and should waste them in such a way.

    Mr Shields is absolutely wrong when he states that no one wrote to him in support of the NIMBY bid. I have been a member of the Society for ten years and I emailed them to register my support for NIMBY. I have an email confirming their receipt (from Wendy saying she would pass it on to the committee) so I suggest Mr Shields change his statement.

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  3. jack

    So at least one person wants a big festival, but the vast majority of people felt upset enough to object. Sums it up really.

    Why is the Society wasting its reserves? It wants to spare the regular users of the Heath and local residents a lot of hassle. Does everything have to be about getting more money and corporate events? Is green space like parks and the heath just about getting more money, what about the noise and litter and drunken idiots that will probably accompany this event?
    The Park is being used and Circus Field for the Olympics next year, now another section of the Heath that would have offered some compensation for this will be occupied… my view is that we really need some green space for people to use normally, for free, to relax in, without having to buy tickets or be forced out by some corporate crap. And Lewisham didn’t even ask if anyone minded. OK, that’s enough from me, deep breath…

  4. Lara Ruffle

    Hi Darryl,

    So, TBS didn’t have a problem with the festival they spent 90-odd k on appealing against? They just didn’t like Lewisham Council?

    Statement is B.S. The appeal was again NIMBY Events not Lewisham Council. Stupid statement to make.

  5. Darryl

    The case was listed as “Blackheath Society v London Borough of Lewisham.”

    NIMBY Events Ltd was the second respondent – it was Lewisham’s licensing decision in question, not the desire to hold a festival.

  6. Lara Ruffle

    Hi Darryl,

    I see, thank you for the clarification. :-)

    Good to know they saw fit to involve NIMBY as a second respondent though. I am sure a start-up company comprising three people were very pleased to have been involved in the appeal and love having to spend £40k on court costs before they had even done anything.

    As my personal yearly income would have to be earnt more than twice over to reach that amount of money I detest the deplorable waste of money this appeal has cost the three parties involved.

    As always however, I am grateful that we have forums like 853 and the Blackheath Bugle to debate these issues.

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  8. ThePirateKing

    To ‘Jack’
    The proposed music event is over two days. That leaves 363 days that year to use that area of the heath ‘normally’.

    “my view is that we really need some green space for people to use normally” – Jack

  9. Paul

    I think it is hilarious that the Blackheath Society refer to the Nimby event as a Pop Festival. It just goes to show how out of touch they really are and the exact type of NIMBY they are to be wasting 80K.

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  11. paulie

    lets just be clear. This not a camping event, and any silly scare stories of people just pitching up and refusing to go, is rubbish, call finsbury park, clapham common or victoria park to verify when they do one day concerts. This is two one day concerts, not a festival, two shows back to back make economic sense

    The reality is this event may or may not happen anyway, just because there is a licence in place, now the tricky part, find the right bands

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