Blackheath Festival Abandoned for 2011

Michelle O’Brien writes that Nimby won’t go ahead with the On Blackheath festival this year:

Organisers of the planned OnBlackheath pop festival this summer said on Monday (May 16th) that they will almost certainly now have to abandon it after Bromley Magistrates ordered yet another adjournment in hearing Blackheath Society’s appeal against the event.

“We are desperately disappointed,” NIMBY Events Ltd. director Tom Wates said after the Magistrates adjourned the hearing of the Society’s appeal, this time until 29 June.

Monday was the 5th day of the hearings. They began on the 3rd of March.

But Mr. Wates said on Monday that if the Magistrates did finally throw out the Society’s appeal, NIMBY would be back again with a new bid to stage the open-air two-day festival on the Heath in September 2012.

Among the class of stars NIMBY had been looking to feature at the festival this Sept. 10 and 11 year were Adele and Mumford & Sons. NIMBY had been planning on attracting audiences of 25,000 on each of the planned festival’s two days, charging £45 per ticket per day.

Mr. Wates and his wife own the Noa Noa dress shop in Blackheath Village.

Earlier on Monday, Peter Gadsdon, head of Lewisham Council’s Strategy and Performance department and chairman of the Council’s Safety Advisory Group, had told the two Magistrates hearing the appeal: “Mr. Wates indicated that the event would not go ahead unless there was a decision today.”

Fellow NIMBY director Alex Wicks said that as a result of the Society’s legal bid to block the festival the three parties involved – NIMBY, the Society and Lewisham Council – had together been involved in spending “a ridiculous amount of money, far too much” on legal fees. Each of the three is represented in court by a barrister.

Mr. Wicks said a guesstimate for the total for the three would be £200,000. “It’s a significant amount of money which could have been put to better use than this”.

He said NIMBY has financial backing from a venture capital group. Blackheath Society, meanwhile, has appealed to its
members to dig into their pockets to help fund its legal costs. As a Council, Lewisham’s legal costs are met by local council tax payers.

The presiding Magistrate, Mr. Roger Mills, told the court on Monday: “This appeal was originally listed for two days” (March 3rd and 4th). “But here we are half way through Day 5 and Day 6 is looming.”

But he said that because of “the enormous amount of evidence” from the hearings that the two Magistrates would have to plough through there could be no final decision in the case until some unspecified time after June 29th.

At an earlier hearing, Mr. Wates had indicated continuing uncertainty over the outcome of the Society’s appeal was causing NIMBY major headaches, including booking artists. He said neither artists nor some of the contractors NIMBY wanted to use would enter into discussions until they knew for certain that the festival was going ahead.

Recognised as one of the most powerful local groups of its kind in the country, Blackheath Society bills itself as the “Guardians of the Heath.” But local blogs show overwhelming support for OnBlackheath especially among younger people.

The Society’s appeal is against a ruling by Lewisham Council’s licensing sub-committee that gave the go-ahead for NIMBY to stage the festival annually this year and in perpetuity, with sale of alcohol.

Many thanks to Michelle for sending this in. I’ve always been in two minds about the festival to be honest – never quite decided which side of the fence to land… But it is clear that many people commenting here and on other local blogs (such as the excellent 853blog), feel strongly that the Society may have mis-judged the local mood this time.


Filed under blackheath, festival

55 responses to “Blackheath Festival Abandoned for 2011

  1. Very disappointed. I feel very sorry for NIMBY Events and the money they have wasted in trying to put on an exciting local event.

    I really hope they do host an event in 2012 and that they are not disheartened by this experience with The Blackheath Society.

  2. Kate

    Writing as one who would have been directly affected by the noise and fuss of the festival, I’m really glad that it’s been cancelled for this year – as long as it’s radically rethought for any future application. Support may have been strong on the blogs, but a large proportion of people directly affected – ie living on the front line – won’t necessarily be interested in blogs, or the kind of music that was being advertised. Many – shock horror – might not even ever have heard of Adele.

    The Blackheath Society represents people living round the Heath, not the blogosphere. You can’t really judge the ‘local mood’ by what you read here (however fascinating, and as for myself, I never miss a Bugling if I can help it) or on other blogs. If you live round the Heath and disapprove of the Society’s attitude, why don’t you join it rather than just sniping at it?

    Or is it that perhaps most of those who are so keen on a large noisy festival don’t actually *live* within the impact area?

    • I think one of the interesting factors is that the Society didn’t ask their members how they felt collectively about the proposed festival.

      • Could we hear more about this?

      • Anna Walters

        There was a comment on a previous post from 28th March from a member of the society (ThePirateKing) who said they had not been balloted, or even approached for their views, on whether the society should object or not.

      • Anonymous

        Lewisham Council is much holier than BlackSoc. It is “currently consulting residents on the use of parks and open spaces which includes a policy to hold events. ” Hands up anyone who knows that. Obviously, you don’t read the News Shopper, which is the only place I have seen this.

        You can, of course, go to the council web site and click on “active consultations” to comment on use of parks in general. That seems an adequate way to find out what residents want, as we all check the council web site daily. Don’t we?

        I remember public meetings and a blitz of leaflets about parking and other traffic measures a few years ago. I presume that is not going to happen about the Heath, what with spending cuts and pressure over green issues.

        Mind you, they seemed to ignore public views on parking anyway.
        Remember the pledge that resident’s parking fees would be set to “cover costs” rather than raise income. Strange that they will DOUBLE this year.

    • chad valley

      No, the Blackheath Society represents some of the people that live around the Heath. It also seems to represent a number of people who won’t be directly impacted by the event but want to prevent it regardless.

      Anyway, as you say, this is clearly no place to judge the ‘local mood’ so i probably shouldn’t pay too much heed to Kate’s comment.

  3. Graeme

    That’s really disappointing. As one who lives around the Heath, I feel it I is a wonderful space, and it should be shared for everyone to enjoy. If that means putting up with some noise and crowds every now and then, so be it. We have the marathon, and we’ve had climate camp- both show Blackheath off for the lovely place it is. I can’t see any reason why a music festival wouldn’t too. It probably would have left some mess and made some noise- well, so do the people who sit outside the Princess of Wales every week.

    Blackheath has lost out here. And it’s a shame that it has done so because people who have the money, and knowledge of the Court system, can use it to block what could have been a fun community event.

  4. Of course the people “people living round the Heath” are happy to have the benefit of the Heath but are un-willing to share it with others even those who pay for it through their council tax etc. Whenever something like this is proposed you would think the gates of hell were opening rather than a pop festival. The inconvenience for few hours is always vastly over exaggerated also we are talking the fans of Mumford & sons (the Waitrose Levellers) not Napalm Death. I Think it’s a shame that the Heath remains Britain’s largest most pampered dog toilet cum roundabout rather than the venue for the occasional more interesting event.

    • Kate

      There may not have been a formal poll of Blackheath Society members, but there’s been plenty of opportunity for members to object to the Society’s response to the festival proposals. They have been discussing this for ages in the newsletter. I’m sure that if they had serious opposition they would have drawn back, especially from spending Society money on lawyers. To be fair to them, they were not objecting to the proposal per se, but to the apparent lack of planning and also to the council’s rash granting of a permit in perpetuity.

      • ThePirateKing

        I’ve been a member of the Blackheath Society for ten years and I did email in saying I was in favour of the event and asking the Society to ballot members. They didn’t.

        Most of the prose coming from the Society on the subject assumed that all its members were against it instead of asking their opinions right at the beginning BEFORE they objected.

        All they did ask members for was their money. Not their views.

    • ‘the waitrose levellers’ – im using that! spot on about the heath in general too.

    • What a crass thing to say. The Heath is used all the time by all people.

      Somehow you seemed to have missed the Marathon, the Fireworks, Bank Holiday Fairs, the Circus, Charity Runs (with music), sunday morning footballers, DOG WALKERS and more.

    • Bob

      “Of course the people “people living round the Heath” are happy to have the benefit of the Heath but are un-willing to share it with others”

      Exactly! I mean, apart from the Marathon, the fireworks, Race for Life, Run to the Beat, the olympics, climate camp, Zippos circus, the regular bank holiday fair, the family fun-fair by the church, the Bike and Kite festival, easter egg hunts, and the odd game of football and golf, when does the heath ever get used for the occasional interesting event?

    • Anonymous

      > the people “people living round the Heath” are happy to have the benefit of the Heath but are un-willing to share it

      They seem to share it quite well. I’ve never had anyone rush out to bash me with a zimmer frame for using their “lawn” – although the ***rseholes who leave behind piles of trash deserve such treatment.

      > Whenever something like this is proposed you would think the gates of hell were opening

      “Something like this” has never happened before. Strange how the Marathon, fireworks, fairs, circuses and motley other events don’t raise objections. I wonder if it’s because those living around the Heath may be quite reasonable when treated with some respect.

      > The inconvenience for few hours is always vastly over exaggerated

      Inconvenience for a few hours is more than tolerated: it is welcomed [see above]. Two half-days of amplified music a few hundred yards from your windows is a tad more serious. But I would happily bow to the poster’s superior knowledge if he/she can demonstrate personal experience.

      BTW, dismissing the Heath as merely a roundabout/dog toilet, shows a severe lack of knowledge about how much it is used, ranging from sports to school activities and picnics. That implies the poster may not actually visit the place too often.

  5. Maisie

    I get the feeling that the Society’s default position is ‘No’ and that’s that. Even if it would increase football in Blackheath. Depressingly nimby-ish of them.

    I felt it was unlikely as it was all too last minute. Sept is too close to organise a decent festival. Such a pity,

  6. Pingback: ‘On Blackheath’ festival cancelled « Open Mic Greenwich

  7. Hi Michelle O’Brien, how did you get the inside scoop? What do you do? Thanks. :-)

  8. Talbot

    I was not entirely opposed to the event, but it was planned to run too late Sunday and I thought it was odd that they chose the same weekend as BBC’s Proms in the park. An event that attracts 10s of thousands to Hyde Park which already clogs up transport into and out of London.

  9. Michele O'Brien

    “Hi Michelle O’Brien, how did you get the inside scoop? What do you do? Thanks.”

    I’m a retired Fleet Street journalist, Lara. I’ve been attending the appeal hearings at Bromley Magistrates Court simply out of interest because I’ve lived in Blackheath for over 30 years and think it’s a good local story with lots of local interest.

    Unfortunately cash-strapped local newspapers up and down the country are a dwindling breed and no longer routinely cover magistrates court hearings, which is a pity because they often miss a good scoop.

    • i used to love going bromley mags in my local newspapering days. always get a few good easy stories and a guaranteed hour for dinner, itself a luxury. my fave was the man who secreted about 8 easter eggs in his big coat only for them all to tumble out as he marched out of the shop. bit sad really, he was a bag-head and was looking to sell them outside.

  10. Local Girl

    It is so ironic that The Blackheath Society have spent large sums of money on this appeal when the next blog is the library closing down! Do their member know that their charitable contributions (TBS is a charity!) end up in the pockets of solicitors/barristers as opposed to the local community.

    Has the Society ever thought of prioritising their energies/pensions into something positive for a change.

    • Anonymous

      Have you ever considered checking out what BlackSoc actually does rfather than spouting childish sneers.

  11. MC

    Lets hope Mumford & Sons have split up by 2012.

  12. Dr Nick

    Interesting news, and of course (especially given that our Learned Friends are involved) all parties will probably make comments as stridently as the limits of the law affords!

    Trying, however, to dodge the bluster and brickbats from the various parties and opinions I’d like to say two things.

    First – I posted a while ago in a comment that “real democracy” (my definition of course!) would involved around 40,000 registered voters in the areas immediately adjoining Blackheath.
    Lively and interesting as local blogs are, they’re neither democratic nor (I humbly submit) representative.

    Second – let’s try an argument by substitution to point out what was fundamentally wrong with the Festival goings-on. Insert “arms fair” for “festival”. See, not quite so attractive now is it?
    Intentionally emotive too, as many discussions of the Festival idea have been.

    The problem underlying it is that Lewisham had no policy for management of its bit of the Heath, and Glendale (its proxy manager) is a for-profit company with a defecit to turn around. See any potential issues?

    The actual governance of the Heath is done by an un-elected body (though I do think it tries very hard to do “the best for everyone”, whatever that means).

    The underlying situation is this:
    a very attractive, massively under-exploited resource (the Heath), with few rules or governance around what can and can’t be done with it, on it, and when.

    May Neil Rhind correct me if I’m wrong, but I *believe* there’s nothing to prevent (say) arms fairs being held on the Heath every day of the year, if Glendale and the Heath’s governance body were to go along with it.

    And the reason Blackheath was the target for a Festival was exactly that: it’s currently free to be exploited for the gain of Glendale and A N Other plc.

    I hope that Lewisham has some formal governance in place by the next time a Festival comes around. Unregulated environments ripe for exploitation scare me: they don’t tend to bring out the best in anyone’s behaviour. For more information, see the 1980s. (And much of the rest of recorded history).

    • A good point well made. Hopefully the next application that comes along will be handled more transparently by all concerned…

    • ThePirateKing

      I’m not sure we should be joking about having an International Arms Fare on the heath.

      I rather suspect that the Blackheath Society would be in favour of that.

      A chance to get the Empire back and all that. :)

    • Brian

      In that case Dr Nick it seems that Nimby have done all us Lewisham residents a favour by bringing this lack of formal governance to light and thus saving us from 365 days of arms fairs and pop festivals. Should we then perhaps thank Nimby and give them first shot at putting on a new and exciting event for the area. From what I have read they are three local guys who are genuinely trying to promote the area, granted they may make some money for themselves along the way but if you don’t like capitalism I would suggest moving to North Korea. I for one would prefer three local guys to be in control of a local event as opposed to an AEG (owners of the O2) or a Live Nation (run the music events in Hyde Park amongst others) or any other faceless global corporate that is purely in it for the money. We should be encouraging entreprenuers and local enterprise not trying to stifle it with nimbyism and red tape.

      Let’s face it two days of music each year isn’t going to be to the detriment of the community as a whole provided it is managed professionally.

      I for one hope Nimby win their appeal against the BSoc, Lewisham put some proper governance and process in place and that we all get to go along to two days of live music on the heath in 2012.

  13. Paul L

    Well, this is an absolute shame. Seeing as The Blackheath Society didn’t even ballot their members, they should have been thrown out of court. Unfortunately a few rich individuals get their way (temporarily at least). Sounded like it would have been a good event

    • Gerry Frizzelle

      I’m puzzled at the suggestion (repeated again here) that the Blackheath Society should have balloted its members. Fair enough, of course; everyone says they approve of democracy. But, on that basis, shouldn’t the Borough of Lewisham’s officers also have balloted residents, or council tax payers, or even just Mumford & Sons fans (which would keep the cost down) before granting the licence? Why should the Blackheath Soc be required to meet standards not expected of others?

    • Anonymous

      I keep hearing about these “rich” objectors. Any evidence of the income distribution of people living around Hollyhedge House?

      • Paul L

        Gerry Frizzelle – If the action is being brought by the Blackheath Society, it suggests they are acting on behalf of their members and their members have echoed that opinion. The members advice was not sought after, therefore the action being brought should not be under the name of the Blackheath Society, but under the names of the individuals concerned. The point you make regarding councils/government and why Lewisham council didn’t ballot people, that’s completely different. Those who sit on council and government have been elected by the public to make such decisions on our behalf (good or bad), it’s not reasonable to expect them to ask for our approval on every decision they take. Whereas, if I’m a member of the Blackheath Society and I see a few individuals squandering tens of thousands of pounds on a legal case under the name of the organisation for which I belong, without even getting the views of it’s members, that is completely different

  14. “it was odd that they chose the same weekend as BBC’s Proms in the park”

    also the same weekend as the Thames Festival and the Greenwich Comedy Festival. I think London’s big enough to cope, though…

  15. Pingback: Counting the cost: On Blackheath festival off for 2011 « 853

  16. Ed

    That’s a pity , I was looking forward to it.

    • Anonymous

      Never mind. You can get some enjoyment instead from the Bike & Kite Festival that is strongly supported by the Old Crusties Society.

      Or not. I understand that’s been chopped.

      Time, mayhap, for a moan about the fact that Lewisham Council didn’t carry out a poll before making this decision?

  17. RC

    The Blackheath Society versus blogosphere/permission process aside… The real frustration here is the fact that considerable time, resources and – most importantly – the credibility and potency of local bargaining power have been squandered opposing an event that when viewed alongside some of the multiple major events that Blackheath hosts every year is totally viable. A controlled, two-day event that pales into insignificance when compared with vital issues such as unsolocited, life-changing transport changes (train timetables, ‘comedy’ lift instillations), retail planning decisions that homogenize and ultimately destroy the fabric of our village and the protection of historical architecture and public spaces. I hope those that have unilaterally attacked such a soft target will have the ability to rally local opinion and the gumption to defend what really matters in the months and years to come.

  18. A real shame to hear the Society has worked it’s archaic 1880’s style approach to anything connected with the next generation of Blackheathians once again and without any sense of fairness via ballot of it’s members. I for one will be visiting Noa Noa and offering up any services I can provide to the NIMBY organisers for future events.

  19. john garcia

    Has anyone even mentioned the ability of the Heath to take this rising volume of leisure activity? Have a look at the wear and tear around All Saints Church to see what the combination of drought and foot traffic can do to a green space. In places it looks beyond regeneration and will become a swamp in winter and a dustbowl in summer. Has anyone out there given any thought as to how much longer it can survive under this sort of attack?

  20. Paul

    This kind of attack? I think you’ll find crowds have assembled on the heath for centuries, some for not-too-peaceful purposes, and it has survived.

    I live two hundred years off the Heath, and have no problem with a Festival (nor with the Tea Hut, which the Blackheath Society has long persecuted, too).

    It is indeed outrageous that the Society seems supine towards damaging developments in the area, yet spends a fortune on barristers to prevent a one-off festival – without even canvassing the views of the members who will bankroll their legal action.

    • Anonymous

      “It is indeed outrageous that the Society seems supine towards damaging developments in the area, yet spends a fortune on barristers to prevent a one-off festival – without even canvassing the views of the members who will bankroll their legal action.”

      Yet more BS about BlackSoc. If you think it is “supine” you obviously have not a tiny clue about the tireless work done over many decades to protect this superb asset.

      As for “canvassing members”: if you are one, you could have piped up at any time. You could now resign in disgust, or stand as a committee member to change the way it is run.

      If, as I suspect, you are not a member, you can join and work within to promote the festival in 2012. It may seem surprising but this is probably what a lot of existing members will do. They will, however, press for something which does not seem designed to antagonise those living next door.

      • scared of chives

        “It may seem surprising but this is probably what a lot of existing members will do [be in favour of the festival]”.


  21. Lara

    I hope The Blackheath Society will release an official statement regardless this issue. I imagine this won’t happen until the hearing is complete however.

  22. PCL

    Very very disappointing. Would have been a great community event and showcase for local businesses as well. A loss to Blackheath. But here’s to 2012

  23. Naive...

    I only want to say that we were so looking forward to the festival. Surely, as a local community we can make it happen (the right way) for 2012. I think that the Blackheath Society does some brilliant work and that between them and NIMBY we could stage an event that captures the essence and magic of Blackheath. Could NIMBY fund a post that fully represents the Society and ensures that their concerns are addressed during the run-up to the festival? As for people living near the Heath, if it were me I know I’d be overrun with cousins, friends, etc desperate to stay over that weekend. If the noise was an issue, I’d be ‘letting’ my place out and disappearing for a quiet weekend in the Garden of England…

  24. Vincenzo

    Congratulations to the No Fun Brigade.

    While I appreciate we don’t all live on the ‘front line’ that would be most affected by a festival, those people are among the luckiest on earth, so a temporary inconvenience that would give great pleasure to 50,000 others – on public land – shouldn’t be too much to bear.

    • Anonymous

      Other “lucky” people living across the area would also, I’m sure, be happy to undergo the temporary inconvenience of a festival in their street. Forget the Heath: let’s spread the joy with a Notting Hill style carnival!

  25. david

    As a member of the Blackheath Socirty I wrote expressing my support for the NIMBY event but my letter was not published in the newsletter – which did however publish several letters opposed to it. I feel that the Society – which did not canvass its members views – has wasted a good deal of time and money oppossing what might well have been amn amazing event. NIMBY indeed.

  26. Curious

    Does anyone know if there was a decision about the NIMBY event at the hearing in Bromley on 29 June? What’s the latest on this?

  27. Michele O'Brien

    “Does anyone know if there was a decision about the NIMBY event at the hearing in Bromley on 29 June? What’s the latest on this?”

    On Wednesday (June 29) the two Bromley Magistrates hearing Blackheath Society’s appeal against the festival received final submissions from the barristers representing the three parties involved (NIMBY, the Society and Lewisham Council).

    The Magistrates then announced they will give their decision on the appeal on July 22 after studying in detail the large body of evidence taken during the six days of the hearings. The hearings began on March 3.

    NIMBY has already announced that the planned OnBlackheath festival this September will not go ahead because of the length of time the appeal hearing has taken. But if the Magistrates reject the Society’s appeal on July 22 this could clear the way for the festival going ahead on the Heath in 2012.

  28. Curious

    Michele, thank you. What do you think NIMBY and Lewisham council will do if the decision goes against them? Will that mean the heath is safe from future pop concerts?

  29. Michele O'Brien

    “What do you think NIMBY and Lewisham council will do if the decision goes against them? Will that mean the heath is safe from future pop concerts?”

    Dunno. But I’d imagine that if Bromley Magistrates on July 22 do uphold Blackheath Society’s appeal against the festival, NIMBY and Lewisham Council might be reluctant to spend any more money on legal action for the present. At a time of national belt-tightening it’s reportedly been rather expensive for all three of the parties involved.

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