In a way, it’s a major shock. But if you were in Woolwich Town Hall yesterday, it’ll come as no surprise at all.

Greenwich Council’s licensing committee has refused permission for the four Peninsula Festival licences – meaning no beach, no 20,000-capacity gigs, no campsite, and no “business lounge” on the Greenwich Peninsula during next summer’s Olympics.

Early publicity for the event had carried the council’s logo, as part of its Greenwich Festivals initiative, and cabinet member for culture John Fahy had been a vocal supporter of the event.

Indeed, festival organiser Frank Dekker is renting space from Greenwich Council in offices it is leasing at Mitre Passage, at the top of the peninsula, and in an interview with this website earlier this year had spoken warmly of the expertise the council had made available to him.

But John Fahy’s colleagues, acting in a strict legal capacity, found the application desperately short of detail. In truth, the whole process was dead ten minutes into yesterday’s six-hour hearing, when counsel for the Metropolitan Police laid into the plans for a 20,000-capacity stage area opposite homes on John Harrison Way, for providing a lack of information on just how this would all work.

When barrister Adam Clemens explained that the Met’s facility for dealing with suspicious vehicles was to be right next to the stage area, you could see the wheels start to fall off this plan. What if the police did intercept a car bomb on the site? How would the crowd be evacuated? Without any answers, he said, there could be no backing from the police.

Proceedings continued in a similiar vein all day. A representative from Peninsula Festival contractor G4S said he couldn’t tell councillors about the security plans for, well, security reasons. As one objector pointed out during the afternoon, they may as well have packed up after the police put their foot down, and saved everyone’s time and money.

Those directly affected, residents of the Greenwich Millennium Village plus their neighbours across the Thames, made their voices known in great numbers – even if most couldn’t make a daytime hearing. The presence of a senior Tower Hamlets councillor – opposition leader Peter Golds – added weight to cross-river objections that may otherwise have been overlooked.

But internal strains in the Peninsula Festival organisation also scuppered the scheme. There were disagreements with the Greenwich Yacht Club which meant it was unclear just what councillors were being asked to approve.

But it was problems with the concert area which seemed to scupper the whole thing. The application for the concert area was originally for a 45,000-capacity arena in the name of Kilimanjaro Live, the firm behind the Sonisphere and Wakestock festivals and a sister company to O2 Arena owner AEG. The idea was to hold gigs while the O2 was out of commission during the Olympics.

But with the drop in capacity, Kilimanjaro boss Stuart Galbraith. pulled out. LOCOG’s representative said he only heard the news at 5.45pm the night before the hearing. That’s the Olympics organisers who were said to be working closely with the Peninsula Festival. They wouldn’t back it either. Nor did Transport for London, worried about making too many demands of the Jubilee Line. With a supposedly neutral sound report making comments about a “once in a lifetime” event, councillors weren’t impressed.

So how did we end up here? Why did the council get tangled up with this? There was a genuine desire to find something to liven up the Greenwich area during an Olympics lockdown that will see many attractions closed, and to capitalise on any feelgood factor generated by the games. With few plans for big screens where people can see the action taking place in a shut-off Greenwich Park and other venues, many people will miss an event that they could have enjoyed while the capital is turned on its head for the Olympics.

It may well be that the authorities simply weren’t willing to countenance anything to put additional strain on a stretched city. But with a flawed plan, and unable to reassure neighbours that they weren’t going to be driven mad by noise, it was always going to fail – even in Greenwich.

So what happens now? Will another plan fill the gap? We may find out more today – as Frank Dekker still has one event up his sleeve, Sail Royal Greenwich, which is being launched today. No noise, little hassle – and, most importantly for him, no licence needed from the council. Keep an eye on the river this lunchtime for a preview of something that’s coming to London next summer which few people can argue about.

11.55am, North Greenwich Pier: Frank Dekker’s remaining optimistic about the future. “It’s a process,” he said at the launch of Sail Royal Greenwich. More soon… (…er, on Friday)

11 replies on “Peninsula Festival refused licences by Greenwich Council”

  1. After hearing the MET speak yesterday I am not surprised. What is surprising is that Greenwich Council continued this charade all day long. It was obvious after the first objection from the MET that it could not go on.
    Thanks for keeping us informed Darryl – after promises from Greenwich Council to let objectors know the outcome we are still waiting.

  2. The river’s dangers were probably overplayed but the hearing also showed what an amaterish operator Dekker and his cronies really are – this kind of event, even with the reduced capacity, can easily go horribly wrong unless planned for properly. Remember the crush at the German festival “love parade” a year ago? 19 people were killed and it was put down to poor planning. Meanwhile Dekker struts around with the attitude that “he doesn’t need to know how to run an event” as other people he subcontracts do. G4Security were shown up as fools by the Met, and the event promoters have ditched him. Now all he has is some Dutchmen with an orange london bus in a field. Says it all.

  3. Omar

    Ever been to a Love Parade? I have, and it is well in excess of 20 or even 45,000 people. Last count, the Love Parade was drawing over 1 million people in to a few streets, something akin to Nottinghill but only much more fun.

    Not comparable.

    As for Dekker and G4S? Well, do some research and you’ll find they are running most things now days including prisoner, immigration and Olympic security. No mean feat by anyones standards.

    As for the Dutch, well, I’ll remind you that Greenwich was once owned by Holland and, to this day, owes a lot of our linguistics to our Flemish cousins across the water.

    In summary….don’t assume as you know what it makes of you.

  4. Indeed, the Love Parade is definitely not comparable to the Peninsula Festival plan and is more of a Notting Hill-style event. And yes, G4S is doing Olympic security – but there were some uncomfortable exchanges with the Met in that hearing. More tomorrow…

  5. Have you been to the area of the proposed festival? It’s surrounded by metal fencing and entry and exit points are very constrained. Of course it’s not on the same scale as the other festival but the planning point I make is perfectly valid – plenty of scope for a crush. The fact that there has been no proper engagement with the authorities represents breathtaking arrogance.

    Scale this back to a music/performing arts/food/whatever else festival with sensible opening hours and scale and you’ll get my unreserved support.

    Local residents would live to see this wasteland brought to life but not at any price.

  6. Omar – yes, we live in the area too, remember. But the Love Parade is a different event – the clue’s in the name, and the tragedy there happened in an underpass. You’re probably thinking of the Roskilde Festival in 2000, where nine died in a stampede during a Pearl Jam set.

    Interesting, though, that you indicate there could be room for compromise, if I’m reading what you say correctly.

  7. Yes absolutely. Of course some will even vocally oppose development of the vacant plots on the peninsula but (as I said in my opposition letter to the original plans) I support the general idea of using the land for something interesting and fun so long as it doesn’t disrupt normal life.

    Perhaps the pearl jam incident is a better comparison – having been in a more minor crush at Leeds festival (albeit 20 were hospitalised) a few years back I’m just very very wary of crowd mentality in situations where there’s nowhere to go.

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