(Update 31 May: Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia reports the festival has been postponed for a further year.)
It’s been a long wait, but first details of the On Blackheath music festival, due to take place on 7 and 8 September, will be revealed in the next few days. Long-suffering 853 readers will remember the festival was initially due to make its debut in 2011, but was derailed by a costly court battle brought by the Blackheath Society, which aimed to overturn Lewisham Council’s decision to award it a licence.
The ruling upholding Lewisham’s licence came in July 2011, too late for a festival that year, and the heavy demands on Blackheath during the Olympics kiboshed any chance of a festival in 2012.
While it won the court case, Lewisham Council was criticised by magistrates for a lack of transparency in consulting over the event. It failed to formally tell Greenwich Council about the application, which magistrates called “astonishing”. The festival site, at Hare and Billet Road, runs metres from the boundary between the two boroughs, and all six Greenwich councillors for the Greenwich West and Blackheath Westcombe wards formally objected to the event.
But Greenwich may try to fight the festival again. At a council meeting in March, Blackheath Westcombe Tory councillor Geoff Brighty asked environment cabinet member (and Greenwich West councillor) Maureen O’Mara if the council had heard anything from Lewisham about the festival.
Her response: “Both of us lodged a very strong response against this matter, and if anything happens, we will you know – and I’ll see you at Bromley Magistrates Court!”
It’s difficult to know on what grounds Greenwich could object – the magistrates’ decision in 2011 dismissed fears over noise and public order. But with Greenwich boasting of its own festivals down the hill, it’d be sad to see an attempt to stop an event that organisers hope could pump a much-needed £1 million into the local economy.
In fact, it’d be downright hypocritical to claim disruption from On Blackheath when Greenwich Council remains determined to host unloved half-marathon Run To The Beat a few hundred metres away on the same weekend, a date pencilled in by On Blackheath for 15 months, an event which is likely to cause many more problems.
Sadly, there’ll be no Greenwich Summer Sessions to run alongside On Blackheath this year – just as the Greenwich Festivals lost the comedy festival, the music festival was also kicked out by the Old Royal Naval College, and has been brushed under the carpet by the council which once funded it.
But its organisers determined to stay in SE10, and are putting on Deptford boy Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel at the Borough Hall on Royal Hill on 19 July – it’s good to see a criminally under-used venue put to good use, and hopefully GSS will be back next year.
Finally, anything about festivals in SE London would be a incomplete without mentioning Leefest, at Highams Hill Farm near Biggin Hill, about as far away from Greenwich as you can get while still staying (technically) in the capital. I went in 2011 and it was a fantastic day out – now it’s ballooned to three days (12-14 July) and has raised £50,000 from fans to fund its future expansion. Tickets are still available, and it’s well worth the trip.
Will On Blackheath build up such a dedicated following? We’ll have to wait and see…