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news, views and issues around Greenwich, Charlton, Blackheath and Woolwich, south-east London – what you won't read in Greenwich Time

Posts Tagged ‘on blackheath

On Blackheath – will Greenwich Council fight music festival?

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(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…

OffBlackheath – festival delayed until 2013

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Yeah, yeah, last with the news, but here it is from the horse’s mouth.

Sad news, but it can’t just be the demands on Blackheath this Olympic year – it’s already going to be a packed summer for events in London (the Blur/ Specials / New Order closing ceremony gig looks something very special) and it’d be hard to get a decent profile for the festival.

But come 2013, and the post-Olympics malaise… and it could shine. Hope to see you next year, chaps.

Written by Darryl

23 February, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Posted in local stuff, music

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On Blackheath planning 2012 date change

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A bit late with this, but the organisers of next year’s On Blackheath festival are planning to hold the event on 22 and 23 September, a little later than the weekend they’d usually aim to hold it on. It’s all down to the Olympics and Paralympics, with the police planning to use the Territorial Army building at Hollyhedge House as a base, and On Blackheath wanting to use it too.

An application has gone into Lewisham Council, which needs to approve the date change, with responses due in tomorrow. Lewisham’s certainly learned a lesson from being criticised in the court case surrounding the festival’s licence – with the site of the event covered in notices for what’s only a minor change. Even the side of Shooters Hill Road without a pavement is festooned with notices.

While on the heath, what’s with the fence surrounding the bank holiday funfair? Apparently there was one there for May’s fair (I was away then) as well, which dispels my notion that it’s some kind of post-riot measure. But it doesn’t look particularly welcoming with a steel fence around it…

Written by Darryl

25 August, 2011 at 12:29 pm

On Blackheath music festival gets court go-ahead

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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.)

Written by Darryl

22 July, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Last chance to join in Blackheath consultation

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If you’ve followed the row over the On Blackheath music festival, you’ll recall that Lewisham Council is now planning a new policy on what it does with its parks. That includes its portion of Blackheath, where the festival was due to take place, as well as other open spaces like Hilly Fields, Beckenham Place Park, Ladywell Fields and Manor House Gardens.

If you’ve a strong view on what happens on the heath, or any other Lewisham open space, then the consultation is here – it only takes a couple of minutes, and there’s nothing stopping you if you’re on the wrong side of the border. (Indeed, you can even suggest Blackheath as a good place for fireworks.)

Be quick, though – it closes tomorrow (Friday).

As for On Blackheath, that battle returns to Bromley Magistrates Court on 29 June.

Written by Darryl

16 June, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Counting the cost: On Blackheath festival off for 2011

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From Michele O’Brien at the Blackheath Bugle, and as mentioned here a couple of weeks back, news that the planned On Blackheath festival is set to be abandoned for this year as a consequence of the lengthy court battle over Lewisham granting it a licence.

However, the organisers have said they’ll reapply for a new licence for next year if the court rules against them – and will simply go ahead with the event next year if the court rules in their favour and against the Blackheath Society, which is taking the action against Lewisham Council.

I dealt at length with Lewisham’s failings in dealing with the original application earlier this month, and it’s telling that the council is reviewing its policy on events in its parks. I expect any future application to hold an event on Blackheath will get more publicity than a single note tied to a single lamp post.

The consequence of this flawed process has been a legal battle which is estimated to be costing all parties involved – the organisers, Lewisham Council and the Blackheath Society – around £200,000.

In a month that will see the closure of Blackheath Village Library, it’s worth noting that £200,000 would have kept that building running (excluding staffing costs) for a further 20 months. The same sum would have kept New Cross Library running for seven years*.

While Lewisham could certainly have done things differently, I wonder if the self-styled “guardians of the heath” (“the public voice of Blackheath“, no less) are starting to regret taking out such a costly, and possibly ruinous legal action?

(* Figures from p506 of this document presented to Lewisham Council’s cabinet.)

Written by Darryl

17 May, 2011 at 2:26 pm

On Blackheath update: The court battle drags on

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I’ve neglected this over the past few weeks, so here’s an update on what’s happening with the On Blackheath festival.

A court hearing took place four weeks ago… and the magistrates still haven’t heard from all the witnesses. So the case resumes yet again on 16 May, and it’s believed a further day in court may yet be needed.

All this means that even if the Blackheath Society loses its appeal against Lewisham Council, there’s a chance the festival may not go ahead as planned on 10/11 September.

I’ve been in touch with the organisers and they tell me that they’re still planning a 2011 festival, and if time runs out and they get approval they will simply switch to a 2012 festival instead. (The Paralympics may mean the same weekend is unavailable next year, mind…)

In the meantime, On Blackheath’s organisers are planning to put some more information on their website, and are also looking at putting some smaller shows on at Blackheath Halls – which has staged a few gigs in the past, and could do with extra income after Greenwich Council scrapped its grant to the venue.

But the whole thing has opened a huge can of worms which neither the organisers, Lewisham Council, nor even the objectors could have foreseen. Lewisham Council is now reviewing its policy on events in its parks following the row.

Consider the people who live around Blackheath. Similar festivals take place on Clapham Common and in Victoria Park without too many problems. But the people who live close to those open spaces are younger and are more likely to be familiar with urban festivals – visit Clapham Common on a sunny day and take a look around you – while residents around Blackheath are generally older and not as interested, no matter how keen those who live in the wider area may be.

Hence the outright hostility – and to an extent, a complete unwillingness to listen to any argument for a festival. One furious man stormed out of a public meeting held in March, branding the organisers “capitalist ponces” and demanding the right to “play bongo drums” on their windowsills. Whatever the organisers say, a large proportion of the immediate neighbours of the festival believe the area will be invaded by pissed-up kids swigging White Lightning out of Tesco bags – and are unlikely to accept that anything different will happen.

How did this happen, though? The problem lies in the consultation process for holding such events. Councils aren’t obliged to do letter drops on licensing issues, like they have to do on planning issues. So all many locals saw was a single notice attached to a lamp post at the end of Hare and Billet Road last autumn, applying for a licence, and giving a bare outline of what was planned. “I’m not a dog walker or a Blackheath Society member, I didn’t see the sign,” one resident told a local assembly meeting last month. Meanwhile, Greenwich councillors are aggrieved they were not involved in the process on an event right on the borough boundary.

The organisers thought they were doing it by the book – and they were right. But now even they realise that the consultation process wasn’t up to scratch for such a big event.

Hence Lewisham belatedly realising it needs to get its act into gear and actually develop some policies for what to do. There’s complications relating to Lewisham Council’s contract with Glendale to manage its parks – there’s a 10% shortfall in Glendale‘s contract which it can make up by charging organisers to hold events such as On Blackheath. That contract lasts to 2020.

There’s specific issues regarding the legal status of Blackheath, which differs on each side of the Shooters Hill Road. (Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a common but manorial waste – owned by the Earl of Dartmouth (Lewisham) and the Queen (Greenwich.)) Lewisham believes it needs ministerial approval before part of its side of the heath can be enclosed; although this hasn’t stopped the London Marathon and Zippo’s Circus from sealing off bits of it in recent weeks.

So having stumbled into a legal minefield, it’s easy to see why On Blackheath may not make its debut until 2012 – even if the magistrates find in its favour. But with the Greenwich Summer Sessions, the Peninsula Festival promising outdoor shows, possibly On Blackheath – next summer could be a great one for live music in this part of the world.

Incidentally, the Blackheath Society’s friends in the Westcombe Society have objected to this year’s Greenwich Summer Sessions licence – a Greenwich licensing meeting next week will consider an objection on the grounds that the bands will be too loud and on too late.

UPDATE MONDAY 2:30PM: According to a Blackheath Bugle commenter, a festival on Blackheath will result in the uprooting of lamp posts. In fact, it’s “inevitable”. Ho-hum.

UPDATE MONDAY 6:15PM: There could also be a concert in Greenwich Park in August 2012 if one leading Greenwich councillor gets his way….

Written by Darryl

1 May, 2011 at 9:00 am

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