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.