At a special meeting held on Monday 4 December, the committee of the Friends of Brockwell Park (FOBP) discussed two applications to hold major events in Brockwell Park next summer:
Field Day/The Mighty Hoopla (1-3 June)
Love Box/Citadel (13-15 July)
These two three-day events will be the largest gated, paying ones ever held in Brockwell Park, with an estimated 120,000 attendance at each (240,000 all told), making estimated revenue for the two private organisers of more than £6 million each (£12 million in total). Brockwell Park will directly get £60,000 if that attendance is achieved, or 1% of £6 million, while Lambeth Council will get a further undisclosed but substantial fee, which one commentator has claimed is half a million pounds in total for the two events.
The financial stakes both for the private organisers and the Council are extraordinarily high and the FOBP fears that both will lose sight of whether there is any genuine benefit to the local community, apart from financial, that these two events will bring. Parks are not money trees for private companies or cash-strapped councils.
A tale of two parks
Both events have come from Victoria Park, but the two parks are not similar at all. Victoria Park is flat and criss-crossed by busy roads, giving a natural, level enclave for events. At 50.8 hectares, Brockwell Park is 60% of the size of Victoria Park (86.18 hectares) and Brockwell’s hilly topography means the footprint of these events is wholly disproportionate to the scale of Brockwell Park.
Lambeth Country Show argument
The private organisers and the Council argue that because Brockwell hosts the annual Lambeth Country Show (LCS), which last year had 150,000 attendees, it can manage these private, gated events. The LCS is much loved, including by the FOBP, who welcome it and want it to stay free. But that is precisely the point: LCS is free and not gated, as were the once-in-a-generation major GLC concerts of the past, such as Rock Against Racism. The LCS creates the feelgood factor, precisely because it is open to all, regardless of income. It is of huge diversity, from the flower tent to the urban farm. It does not impose high-decibel music on people whose tastes differ. It is inclusive, not exclusive, it is all that is good about Lambeth. The thought that it is beyond the wit of Lambeth Council to keep the LCS free without doing deals with Lovebox beggars belief.
Objection 1. Exclusivity
These two events appeal to a limited demographic of people who have the ability to pay £50 a day and upwards to attend them, so by their pricing they exclude people of limited means in what is still one of London’s poorest boroughs. But the range of those excluded is far wider. Parks offer a safe and free haven for the young and the old, whatever their income, for families, for sportspeople, for dog walkers, for picnic parties, for the troubled and the mentally fragile—and summer is a particularly special time for many.
But these events are not take it or leave it; everyone who visits the park has no choice but to accept the noise and disruption. Of course those people who love loud music at 90 decibels in the open air should be catered for, but it is the FOBP’s view that this should not be in a small, urban park such as Brockwell. Parks are about balancing competing interests, but these events are set up to attract people from outside the local community and FOBP believes priority should be given to the locals whose council taxes pay for Brockwell Park.
Objection 2. Extent of takeover of the park
Maps provided by the organisers show the extent of the Park to be enclosed is on a scale never previously experienced. One of the most popular stretches of the Park—from the Herne Hill Gate to the Lido—will be sealed off completely, with damaging financial consequences for the much-loved model railway, which will be unable to run for weeks on end, almost certainly jeopardising its long-term survival. The main path from the Herne Hill Gate to the Hall will be closed completely. The Lido will be almost completely closed off and huge new structures constructed in the field beyond it towards St Jude’s Church and on the redgra pitch. It is claimed only 35% of the Park will be taken, but it looks much more like 50%. It will be a gigantic intrusion into our beloved park.
Objection 3. Length of time: 46 days
From setup of Field Day/The Mighty Hoopla on 20 May to getout of Love Box/Citadel on 20 July, these two events will occupy the Park for 41 days (plus 5 days for the Lambeth Country Show, which runs back to back with Love Box/Citadel and gets out on 25 July).
From mid-May to the end of July, therefore, including the summer half term, the Park will not be available to users in any normal way for 46 out of 67 days, ie 68% of the time. That is unacceptable to FOBP.
Objection 4. Environmental impact
The footfall of 40-45,000 visitors a day for six days, plus the many heavy vehicles installing and dismantling these events over 46 days in three major months of summer is an intolerable burden on the ecology of the park, even in good weather.
If there is bad weather, the damage done to the ground by 240,000 people over six days and heavy vehicles churning up mud for more than six weeks will be horrendous. Our experience is that, despite all the promises of good intent, such damage remains unfixed for years.
Fresh in the FOBP’s memory are the two Sunfall events of 2016 and 2017. With ‘only’ 20,000 a day, the vandalism, litter, brawling, urinating and defecation were terrible; FOBP believes the impact of 40-45,000 visitors a day for six days in the space of a month, with similar damaging behaviour, has not been seriously thought through and we do not believe it is sustainable.
Objection 5. Decibel level
The noise level of both events is inescapable, whether people have chosen to pay or not. And for these two events, Lambeth is permitting the highest decibel levels, something the FOBP has long opposed and has had support for its opposition from an extensive local survey. In some parks, Hyde Park, for instance, concerts are held far from housing. In Brockwell Park, the houses are cheek by jowl along its perimeter and the noise, for hours on end, deafening in the park and deeply disturbing and intrusive for a large area outside the park, for miles around.
Objection 6. Wildlife impact
The impact on Brockwell Park’s rich wildlife of these 46 days of disturbance from many heavy vehicles, including six days of high-decibel noise and excessive human footfall, from 12 noon to 22.30, is of deep concern to the Friends.
As a charity, we are bound by the two objects of our constitution:
* To seek to preserve and protect as an historic, landscaped, public open space the whole of the curtilage known as Brockwell Park, Herne Hill, to seek to maintain its beauty, history and ecological interest, and to enhance and promote the Park.
* To ensure its free enjoyment by all sections of the community for their recreation and leisure for the enhancement of the quality of life in this part of South London.
We do not believe these two events will help maintain Brockwell Park’s beauty, history and ecological interest; we believe they will damage them, perhaps severely. As gated, paying concerts, these two events do not offer ‘free enjoyment by all sections of the community for their recreation and leisure for the enhancement of quality of life’.
After prolonged discussion, the committee unanimously decided to oppose both events, as being wholly unsuitable for a small urban park such as Brockwell and will be conveying its views to Lambeth Council’s events consultation process.