More by accident than design, this website completely managed to miss the fact that the On Blackheath music festival actually finally happened at the weekend. (The line-up really wasn’t my bag and it ended up clashing with a sublime St Etienne show at the Barbican, as it happened.)
Personally speaking, it was good to see the event finally happen – particularly after years of gripes from Greenwich councillors and the Blackheath Society’s court battle over Lewisham Council’s decision to give it a licence in 2011. Here’s an interview with the organisers from way back then.
It seems to have gone down well with those who went, although there’s been some mickey-taking over the “food and music” concept…
I couldn’t hear much of Frank Turner when crossing the heath at Duke Humphrey Road at 9pm last night (not a bad thing in my book,) but I’ve seen a few noise gripes on Twitter (the Blackheath Society is asking locals to fill in this survey). If you went along, or if you live nearby, I’d love to hear your experiences of the weekend.
(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…
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.)