More local consultation needed on summer festivals

After the recent negative Flamefest publicity Tunbridge Wells Borough Council must sharpen up its approval procedures for outdoor events and involve local councillors at an early stage.

Flamefest – ‘the festival for enlightened, kinky partygoers’ – promised an outdoor S&M dungeon and ‘adult play area’ in a ‘secret location in Kent …an area of outstanding natural beauty less than an hour from London’.

Allegedly the site was ‘mystical’, ‘where witches’ covens have met for centuries’.

More prosaically it turned out to be Brokes Wood in High Brooms, accessed through a residential area down a narrow lane totally unsuitable for the traffic bringing in the hundreds of people who attended.

Tragically a man was found dead in a tent and a woman was rushed to hospital. Police had to be called in to stop over 140 gate crashers from getting in. Neighbours complained about music and loud noises throughout the night.

Many residents told local councillors that they did not want the festival back.

The combination of lurid sexual references, Tunbridge Wells’ ‘disgusted’ stereotype, and the August silly season proved irresistible to the Sun, Daily Mail, the Guardian and the Evening Standard who all reported it.

Public complaints and press queries flooded in to High Brooms Labour councillor Dianne Hill.

She asked the council why she and local residents had not been informed of the event in advance so that people could have raised any concerns and lodged objections.

She thought this was not an unreasonable request bearing in mind the aspiration of the Borough’s Five Year Plan ‘to assist local communities to take more control; managing events and community activities in their area.’

The Flamefest event was authorised by a Temporary Event Notice under the provisions of Section 100 of the Licensing Act 2003. An applicant wishing to hold an ad hoc event involving no more than 499 people is merely required to submit a completed form up to 10 days in advance.

The council can’t refuse a notice unless the police or Environmental Health object to it, and any objection has to be raised within 3 working days. They can only object if they think the event could: lead to crime and disorder, cause a public nuisance, be a threat to public safety, or put children at risk of harm.

Flamefest proves the approval procedure is inadequate. As well as Environmental Health and the police the council must alert borough councillors and parish councils that a festival is being organised in their area.

This will allow any concerns and objections to be quickly raised within the timescale and help prevent the sort of distress caused by the Flamefest incident.

This is not about being prudish, kill-joy or trying to deny organisers their legal right to run events. It is about local residents being given the chance to have a say in how commercial activities in their neighbourhood impact on their lives.

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