Large festivals are planned in this London park as part of Lambeth Council’s Events 2020 policy – so why are residents concerned?
Stepping out from the urban clutter of independent coffee shops, health-food emporiums and discount stores to catch sight of Brockwell Park can be a little overwhelming.
The Green-Flag award-winning 126 acres of gently sloping grassy hills, trees and biodiversity is an oasis of natural beauty not taken for granted by the residents of bordering Herne Hill, Brixton and Dulwich.
Joggers, cyclists and dog walkers are regulars even in the winter months, but usage of the park swells in the summer when children are off school and families gather for picnics, games and sunbathing.
“This park is the only way we can have a garden around here,” Corinne Clarkson, 39, explains, keeping one eye on her sheepdog as they walk across the meadow near the Tulse Hill side of the park.
“Brockwell Park is the beating heart of our community. It’s our living, open, green space. To take that away from us is wrong. To do that without the consent of the community is worse. The lack of consultation here is hugely problematic.”
She is referring to the licensing application made by MAMA Festivals to host Lovebox and Citadel festivals in the park on July 13, 14 and 15.
Applications have also been made to host Field Day 2018 in the park on June 2.
All three festivals used to take place over the river in Victoria Park, Tower Hamlets – Lovebox has been hosted there for the last 13 years. But all three festivals are relocating for 2018.
The weekenders triggered a significant rise to crime and anti-social behaviour. 38 incidents of theft from the person were reported in Bow West in July 2017, up 55% from the month before, and up 84% from the following month, according to UKCrimeStats.com.
July 2017 also had the most reported overall crimes in the year, with 291 – this is a whopping 73 more overall crimes than April 2017, which had the next number of most reported crimes for the year.
Not all of this crime can be accredited to festivals, but the months where Lovebox took place have seen a significant increase in crime in the area, when compared to the other summer months, for a number of years. For instance, crime was 64% higher in June 2012, when Lovebox took place, than in May and July the same year. It is the same pattern in 2013, and onwards, with the exception of July 2014.
But the festivals are on the increase in popularity, fast becoming a household name even beyond London.
Allowing Lovebox, Citadel and Field Day to move to Brockwell Park is a decision that would bring over 100,000 people to the area in just one weekend several times this summer, flocking through Herne Hill and Tulse Hill stations as well as Brixton tube as they descend on the site.
“We don’t have that kind of capacity. Our transport system will be overwhelmed. There are only three local train stations which people can come in and out of,” Corinne, who is a healthcare worker, says.
Although no formal decision has been made, the festival organisers are already advertising the location on their websites against backlash from the community.
Residents claim they have not been consulted on the matter, and criticise the council’s use of a ‘flawed’ past consultation in the Events 2020 policy plan to support approving the festivals.
The 2015 plan aims to invest in recreational activities in the borough, including the provision of more neighbourhood activities. However, with Lovebox priced at £77 for a day ticket and £114 for a weekend (Friday and Saturday) ticket, and the expected high fences and security personnel maintaining the festival’s exclusivity, residents are aware that these were never intended to be community events.
Doug Buist, a Liberal Democrat candidate for Thurlow Park ward in the May elections, said: “I think we really value it as one of the best parks in London. It provides a space for so many different things, whether it’s dog walking, or as a space for the many local clubs that come here and play football and sports, or go on the BMX track. It’s a really buzzing place.”
“It is,” Kathy Erasmus, a fellow Liberal Democrat candidate, agreed. “It’s a really good family place. Where they want to put these festivals is where people like to walk. People come in all the five or six different entrances and they always tend to walk this little circuit and go and have a coffee at the cafe. We’re not going to be able to do that with a festival here.
“It’s taking the park away from us. We’re the people who pay for the park, but the people that come to the festivals just pay for the festival – they don’t pay for the park. So it’s up to us to decide if we want a festival here, not up to [the current] Lambeth Labour Council. They should be consulting us about things – they haven’t actually consulted the residents.
“It’s quite a lot to get people singing from one song sheet because they are so angry about one issue. The council have allowed that to happen and have ignored it.”
Along with fellow candidate Bryan Mahon, the Thurlow Park Liberal Democrats pledged to oppose any plans for major festivals in Brockwell Park should they be elected as councillors in the upcoming elections on May 7. They have also pledged to support a clear and funded consultation process on similar matters and scrap the Events 2020 policy.
The same pledges have also been made by the Conservative Thurlow Park candidates, Kelly Ben-Maimon, Jack Kelly and Elia Monteiro, and the Green Party candidates for Herne Hill, Nick Christian, Becca Thackray and Matt Reynolds.
The park has played host to other festivals in the past: there was the annual Lambeth Country Show and Sunfall in 2017, but none of these have been to the same capacity expected at Lovebox, Citadel and Field Day.
To the contrary, the council claim that the site will be just 33% of the park compared to 44% taken up by the Lambeth Country Show.
Sunfall claimed to have a capacity of 10,000 but it has been estimated that it exceeded that by double. Benches were stolen, hypodermic needles were found across the park, gas canisters were visible in the grass, festival-goers publicly urinated and defecated in the bushes, and litter was still being picked up days later.
Lambeth Council has told the community that Sunfall will not be returning. But with Field Day expecting to spend 22 days on site to build and break down the festival, and Lovebox expecting 19 days, the number of vehicles, noise and disruption in the park will seriously limit the use of the park from May to the end of July.
It is easy to see why the prospect of opening up the park gates to other large-scale festivals is an unpleasant prospect for those that use the land regularly.
The neighbourhood has created a Facebook group named Brockwell Tranquillity to campaign for consultation before the council reaches a decision. It now has 830 members and counting.
Corinne, who is a member herself, explains: “The issue isn’t with all events in the park. The issue is that the events strategy imposed on the park includes events which are too large that reduce access to too much of the park for too long.
“The impact on local people, both people who use the park and the people who live around the park, is huge from events of this scale.
“But parks’ funding has been massively slashed over recent years, so parks are going to have to become more self-sustaining. We are not unrealistic, we know it has to support itself somehow. But events of this kind are not the way. If the council engage with the local community, we can help them find a better way.”
She adds: “It would be quite feasible to make the park sustainable.”
Brockwell Tranquillity are also concerned for the wildlife of the park. Corinne mildly jokes that it could be an arboretum for the number and variety of trees it is home to. Bats feed over the ponds in the summer, she claims, and last year a rare kestrel was spotting hunting in the area too.
“Although the area where the festival is planned is generally for recreational use, the rest of the park is taken up by wildlife areas which have contributed to our Green Flag and listing as a site of importance for biodiversity,” Corinne says. “By fencing in and stopping people using one side of the park, it forces everyone into the wildlife areas. We will be in much smaller, more concentrated, less suitable parts of the park.”
In response to growing criticism from the community, Lambeth Council sent round a letter on the 12th January which formally extended their consultation process with the community to January 21, before a preliminary decision on whether to grant permits to the festivals takes place on January 29.
Cllr Sonia Winifred, Cabinet Member for Equalities and Culture, said: “There are two new major commercial events proposed for Brockwell Park in June and July. Several layers of rigorous scrutiny, including licensing, Safety Advisory Group, community engagement and planning permission, must be achieved before an event can proceed.
“Throughout that process, the views and concerns of residents are carefully considered. Events of this size go through careful consideration, and we will listen to the views of local people.
“If agreed these events will be carefully managed so any disruptions for locals will be minimised, apprenticeships will be offered, local businesses will be boosted and extra money will be received to help fund the Lambeth Country Show and pay for park improvements.
“Brockwell Park is incredibly important for this borough which is why the council invests heavily in its maintenance, and why we carefully manage all event applications.”
Lovebox and Field Day are also trying to engage the community as part of their applications, but were unavailable for comment.
In a press release, Lovebox founder Jools Butterfield said: “We’re excited about the plans to bring these events to a new home in beautiful Brockwell Park. Large outdoor events are our business, it’s vital that we plan and operate them with a minimum amount of disruption to the local area. We will continue to work with Lambeth Council, its officers and the local councillors to ensure the event is a success for all involved.”