A consultation deadline passed this week, almost certainly unnoticed by thousands of residents – just the way the council likes it – as Town Hall officials make preparations for up to 15,000 to attend raves and other events in the borough’s public open spaces and parks. KEN LEE reports
Quietly, some might say stealthily, council officials tied small, plain notices to park railings around the borough a month ago, part of a process which would allow Town Hall officials to license legally the staging of money-spinning mini-Glastonbury Festivals in Croydon’s open spaces once the coronavirus emergency has passed.
The notices were easily missed – perhaps that was the intention – and residents’ groups and friends of parks groups were never approached directly on the matter. Ward councillors were bypassed, too. The notices are the bare minimum that a local authority has to do to comply with its legal requirements.
In the case of at least one park, even the police were never informed of the council’s intentions.
The notices offered a council website address for more information and a deadline of September 30 for the public to respond to the outline proposals. This being Croydon, in at least one case the administration of the notification had been so poorly executed that the licence application had to be withdrawn because the web address provided did not work.
Under the terms of the licence application – being submitted by Croydon Council to the licensing authority, which is … Croydon Council – up to 15,000 people could descend on some of the borough’s green spaces and parks every day of the year to attend money-spinning music festivals, drive-in film shows, raves and other events fuelled by booze, and perhaps other, less-legal, substances.
Croydon has staged music festivals before – typically two- or three-day affairs in Lloyd Park, one of the borough’s largest open spaces and one which is relatively close to the centre of Croydon and well-served by public transport, with its own tram stop.
What these latest licence applications from the council seek to do, however, is to allow the possibility that such events might be held in the borough’s other open spaces, such as Purley Way playing fields or Addington Park.
Only covid-19 prevented a large-scale event being staged in Addington Park in June this year, one that potentially could have sold tickets for 8,000 people per day over a summer weekend.
Because of coronavirus the licence application for this event was never carried through, though that was not before the organisers, Garage Nation, started offering tickets for sale in December 2019.
In fact, Garage Nation is already advertising its 2021 Festival, which they say is to be held in Croydon on June 5 next year at a “park to be announced”. No licence has been granted for any such event as yet. Nor has a line-up been announced, but Garage Nation is already offering weekender tickets: £55 a time.
In the case of the latest, open-ended applications for Purley Way playing fields and Addington Park (which after complaints that the weblink did not work was withdrawn just a day before the deadline), the terms of the licence that the council wants to grant itself are much the same: permitting the sale of alcohol, performance of dance, plays, films, live music and recorded music between 10am and 10pm Monday to Saturday and 10am to 9pm on Sundays.
It is as if the cash-strapped council has seen the business being done at special events staged by Boozepark, next to East Croydon Station, and decided it wants a slice of the action. With Croydon being “the Borough of Culture” in 2023, they will need to be capable of staging some larger-scale events, too.
But you’d think that a public authority, acting in the public interest, might openly discuss such plans with the public at some stage.
None of the council’s park licence applications have ever been raised, explained or discussed at any public council meetings, and councillors for the wards concerned – both Labour and Conservative – failed to be consulted directly. Some have described the council’s actions as “underhand behaviour”.
While the future of major festivals like Glastonbury are probably not at risk from the council’s plans, a successful application is likely to see large events held in the parks in the future – all for the council’s commercial gain.
Purley Way playing fields are more than 100 acres and provides the largest expanse of sports pitches in the borough. Most weekends it is busy with adults and children playing a variety of sports depending on the season, especially football, where many amateur matches take place on the dedicated grass pitches. The underlying chalk provides good drainage meaning that the pitches are available throughout the year.
The council owns the playing fields and is entrusted with their care. As Metropolitan Open Land, the fields should benefit from the same level of protection as the Green Belt.
Apart from a couple of bus routes pulling in at the Colonnades, Purley Way playing fields are not particularly well-served by public transport. The council’s licence application could allow hundreds of cars, vans and lorries parking on the grass fields for some events. Access to the pitches would be restricted not only when the proposed events are taking place, but for as much as a week beforehand or afterwards, while stages and screens are rigged or dismantled. Effectively, this would close the sports pitches to the public.
One resident who lives close to the playing fields told Inside Croydon: “The council should be up-front with us about its plans for the playing fields and how many events it wants to hold on them and how large these events are going to be.
“What are they trying to hide?
“I’ve no problem with the occasional modestly sized event. But big gatherings would lead to traffic and parking mayhem. Noise is another concern. Loud music would mean no peace and quiet until 10 o’clock at night.
“I don’t see why the council can’t just carry on applying for individual licences for individual events as and when they’re needed. That way, residents will be consulted and we can make our views known.”
Indeed, sources at Fisher’s Folly suggest that one of the reasons that the council is broadening its options of places to stage such events is because of the large volume of complaints, to the police as well as to the council, received from residents around Lloyd Park in 2019 about huge amplifiers blaring noise all through the day, traffic problems and drugs dealing and use.
Nowhere in the council’s applications does it explain why such a general, wide-ranging and all-purpose licence is being sought. Nor does it offer any indication of how frequently the licence might be used if it is granted.
One resident in Addington Village – which the council has deemed to be a conservation area, no less – said, “I am suspicious of the council’s motives. Why on earth would you want to override the existing and perfectly logical local licensing committee’s input to judge each individual application on its own merit?
“Why would you try and push through a blanket licence that effectively allows any kind of event, potentially for unspecified periods, 365 days a year.”
According to the Addington Village Residents’ Association, they were contacted by the police who sought their support as they expressed their reservations over the Garage Nation event that was supposed to take place in June 2020. “The potential for organised drug gangs was a big factor,” the resident stated.
“Each individual event must be judged on merit, health and safety, police assessment and traffic and transport factors and impact of noise and potential damage to the local environment considered.”
When such concerns were raised with Robert Ward, the Conservative councillor for Addington Village, he tried telephoning the licensing office at Fisher’s Folly. No one answered his calls.
Emails to the same department received no reply.
In a letter sent by the Addington Village Residents’ Association to their members, they warned that such a blanket licence, if granted, would mean no scrutiny of individual events on their merits.
“As we see it, the police and licensing committee would have no input and there would be no checks and balances made by that committee, who are appointed to research and evaluate each and all potential events on an individual basis.”
In Waddon, which covers the Purley Way fields, Labour councillors Robert Canning, Andrew Pelling and Joy Prince sent a letter to the council’s licensing officials to object to the council’s application.
Their letter describes the licence application as “unduly excessive”. They expressed reservations over the wide range of times and dates that these events could be staged over, and the large scale of a 15,000-person event.
“Currently only a very small number of licensed events take place on the Purley Way playing fields. If the intention is that the number of events held on the playing fields is to remain low, we see no justification for moving away from the existing licensing arrangements whereby individual applications are submitted, considered and decided on their merits following consultation with local residents and their councillors,” the councillors wrote in their letter.
“Going forward, this would be our preferred approach.
“If the intention is to increase the number of events held on the playing fields should this licence be granted, we would have serious concerns about what will be seen by many residents as underhand behaviour on the part of the council by removing their opportunity to have a say on individual events. The frequent holding of large events at this location would also have a hugely detrimental impact on those who live close to the playing fields, particularly on the Waddon estate.”
The councillors’ letter details the shortcomings of the playing fields as a venue for large-scale events, including traffic congestion, on-street parking pressure, poor public transport links and inadequate arrangements for vehicle access to the playing fields.
The application for Purley Way states that it is “hoped” that new vehicle access from the A23 will be installed. The councillors do not find this reassuring, and want the licence application withdrawn until the “fundamental issue of site access” is resolved.
If the licence is granted, decisions relating to these and other concerns over any event held using this licence would all be taken by the council’s opaque Safety Advisory Group. Residents and their ward councillors would have no say and no involvement in the group’s deliberations.
A Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon: “I suspect that what we have here is another financial wheeze from Simon Hall.”
Hall is the cash-strapped council’s under-pressure cabinet member for finance who paid more than the asking price for the Croydon Park Hotel, only for its operating company to go bust, and who bought the Colonnades centre, next to the Purley Way fields, for £53million, taking the council’s total borrowing to more than £1.5billion.
The source said, “It looks to me like he wants to commercialise the borough’s parks and get them hosting all sorts of big events as often as possible to get a few extra quid into the council’s coffers. He won’t give a toss about the downside for local residents.
“If this licence application succeeds, residents and their councillors will have absolutely no say on how the licence is used. All the decisions will be taken behind closed doors. That’s the council’s preferred way of working these days.”
The licensing application for the Purley Way playing fields is likely to be heard and determined at a council licensing sub-committee virtual meeting. Residents in Addington Village fully expect the botched licensing application for their local park to be re-submitted soon.
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