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.
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….