On Blackheath update: The court battle drags on

I’ve neglected this over the past few weeks, so here’s an update on what’s happening with the On Blackheath festival.

A court hearing took place four weeks ago… and the magistrates still haven’t heard from all the witnesses. So the case resumes yet again on 16 May, and it’s believed a further day in court may yet be needed.

All this means that even if the Blackheath Society loses its appeal against Lewisham Council, there’s a chance the festival may not go ahead as planned on 10/11 September.

I’ve been in touch with the organisers and they tell me that they’re still planning a 2011 festival, and if time runs out and they get approval they will simply switch to a 2012 festival instead. (The Paralympics may mean the same weekend is unavailable next year, mind…)

In the meantime, On Blackheath’s organisers are planning to put some more information on their website, and are also looking at putting some smaller shows on at Blackheath Halls – which has staged a few gigs in the past, and could do with extra income after Greenwich Council scrapped its grant to the venue.

But the whole thing has opened a huge can of worms which neither the organisers, Lewisham Council, nor even the objectors could have foreseen. Lewisham Council is now reviewing its policy on events in its parks following the row.

Consider the people who live around Blackheath. Similar festivals take place on Clapham Common and in Victoria Park without too many problems. But the people who live close to those open spaces are younger and are more likely to be familiar with urban festivals – visit Clapham Common on a sunny day and take a look around you – while residents around Blackheath are generally older and not as interested, no matter how keen those who live in the wider area may be.

Hence the outright hostility – and to an extent, a complete unwillingness to listen to any argument for a festival. One furious man stormed out of a public meeting held in March, branding the organisers “capitalist ponces” and demanding the right to “play bongo drums” on their windowsills. Whatever the organisers say, a large proportion of the immediate neighbours of the festival believe the area will be invaded by pissed-up kids swigging White Lightning out of Tesco bags – and are unlikely to accept that anything different will happen.

How did this happen, though? The problem lies in the consultation process for holding such events. Councils aren’t obliged to do letter drops on licensing issues, like they have to do on planning issues. So all many locals saw was a single notice attached to a lamp post at the end of Hare and Billet Road last autumn, applying for a licence, and giving a bare outline of what was planned. “I’m not a dog walker or a Blackheath Society member, I didn’t see the sign,” one resident told a local assembly meeting last month. Meanwhile, Greenwich councillors are aggrieved they were not involved in the process on an event right on the borough boundary.

The organisers thought they were doing it by the book – and they were right. But now even they realise that the consultation process wasn’t up to scratch for such a big event.

Hence Lewisham belatedly realising it needs to get its act into gear and actually develop some policies for what to do. There’s complications relating to Lewisham Council’s contract with Glendale to manage its parks – there’s a 10% shortfall in Glendale‘s contract which it can make up by charging organisers to hold events such as On Blackheath. That contract lasts to 2020.

There’s specific issues regarding the legal status of Blackheath, which differs on each side of the Shooters Hill Road. (Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a common but manorial waste – owned by the Earl of Dartmouth (Lewisham) and the Queen (Greenwich.)) Lewisham believes it needs ministerial approval before part of its side of the heath can be enclosed; although this hasn’t stopped the London Marathon and Zippo’s Circus from sealing off bits of it in recent weeks.

So having stumbled into a legal minefield, it’s easy to see why On Blackheath may not make its debut until 2012 – even if the magistrates find in its favour. But with the Greenwich Summer Sessions, the Peninsula Festival promising outdoor shows, possibly On Blackheath – next summer could be a great one for live music in this part of the world.

Incidentally, the Blackheath Society’s friends in the Westcombe Society have objected to this year’s Greenwich Summer Sessions licence – a Greenwich licensing meeting next week will consider an objection on the grounds that the bands will be too loud and on too late.

UPDATE MONDAY 2:30PM: According to a Blackheath Bugle commenter, a festival on Blackheath will result in the uprooting of lamp posts. In fact, it’s “inevitable”. Ho-hum.

UPDATE MONDAY 6:15PM: There could also be a concert in Greenwich Park in August 2012 if one leading Greenwich councillor gets his way….


  1. Thank you for the update Darryl, OnBlackheath haven’t provided much news as of late (but they have been busy in court).

    If this festival does not go ahead I will be throughly disappointed. The heath doesn’t host many events throughout the year, and none of the existing events are of a musical nature (as far as I am aware). I am/was looking forward to the details of the line-up and was hoping to buy a ticket and go.

    As a Greenwich local who doesn’t live in the heath I won’t be experiencing any of the problems the Blackheath Society are predicting, however I do live very near the London Marathon route, Greenwich Park where Olympic events will be held, and near the venues Summer Sessions will use – but I wouldn’t dream of complaining and trying to spoil these exciting and LOCAL events for others.

    I do not understand what the Blackheath Society are trying to achieve, I do not understand why they are so negative about this exciting local event, and I think it is a terrible shame that the OnBlackheath organisers are having to fight such a battle before they have even got started.

    Could we not let OnBlackheath run for just one year so we can see what happens?!

    Very disappointed that the Blackheath Society are giving Blackheath such a negative reputation regarding this event. It feels like there is too much snobby NIMBY behaviour up the hill, Greenwich feels so different to me down the hill.

    Yours, disappointed in Greenwich.

  2. Morning!!!! the blackheath bugle commentator about lamp posts was me! 🙂

    I broadly agree with all of your comments, both Darryl and Lara. Part of the reason I moved to the area was because of the heath, and the potential for fun public events. I love the circus, the kite festival, the buzz of the marathon and race for life etc etc.

    Lara, the one difference between the events you mention and OnBlackheath is that OnBlackheath is first and foremost a privately run commercial venture to make money. The others are all community events, with sponsorship etc.

    Whilst I’m not opposed to people making money, I AM opposed to badly organised exploitation. The knocked over lamp-post was symbolic… if something gets damaged by the marathon, it’s fixed within days: what are their plans for managing problems like the lamp post that might arise? Also, the cleanup operation for the marathon happens over night, the public transport arrangements are published months in advance, the marshaling arrangements are in place months in advance.

    My only problem with OnBlackheath is that they have NONE of these things in place. And they’re talking about having the festival in less than four months! They’ve been very happy to advertise potential ticket prices though.

    The location is inappropriate – if they used the area of land now occupied by the circus, most of the complaints about noise and unruly behaviour would disappear, and they wouldn’t have to close any roads. Why did they pick that spot? They don’t have any answers.

    It’s unfortunate that the blackheath society are being so stuffy, but it’s MORE unfortunate as Darryl says that the OnBlackheath organisers didn’t find out more about the local area before blundering in with a licensing application.

    I’m delighted to hear that they are looking into organizing events at the concert halls, and I hope they are successful. This is a brilliant way of getting involved with the local community, and if they go well they’ll get MUCH more support from local residents. If that works then the festival could be a huge success AND be enjoyed by everyone….

  3. Mat – I attended a public meeting put on by the organisers of OnBlackheath where they explained why they chose the spot – they want to hire the TA buildings and use them as backstage areas for crew, performers, police etc, rather than erecting lots of tents etc on the heath for those purposes. These apparently need to be adjacent to the performance areas. You might disagree with their reasoning but they are at least explaining their thought process!

    I do agree that supporting and putting on more concerts at Blackheath Halls is a great idea and seems a win/win solution in the short term at least.

  4. Darryl, I thought he lived in Chistlehurst?

    Edith – I was out of the country when that meeting happened so couldn’t attend. This is the first useful feedback from that meeting that I’ve heard or read about despite extensive looking, so thank you. Most of what I read about that meeting was hysterical rant from both sides!

    It makes perfect sense to use the TA buildings rather than fill up a large area of heath with trailers etc. Have they been successful in principle? And do you have any more useful information from that meeting?

  5. thanks darryl – i read that post whilst abroad on my phone!!! i misread the bit about one of them living just off the heath. I also missed the bit about the TA buildings. my apologies.

    It’s such a shame that there are the ‘snooty blackheath society’ anti brigade and the ‘down with the common person’ pro brigade just bickering and resorting to cheap digs (just like the YES/NO AV debate) rather than all behaving like grown-ups and talking positively about both sides of the argument…

  6. Wat Tyler and Jack Straw would have given no slack to Lewisham council, or this convoluted twist from common to manorial waste. Neither would the Black Prince. Does this mean my ancient right to practice Longbow on the heath is invalid? Or to whack golf balls. What a sad, sad world you new folk are co-creating. Let them eat cake, and provide circus.

  7. Paul L – Thanks! 🙂

    Mat Gough – Glad you have read some more information about OnBlackheath. I feel that they have given out quite a lot of information about how they intend to run the festival, and 853 and the Bugle have posted a lot about this:






    And I am glad you are so positive about this festival, I thought you were on the other side of the fence from your posts on the Bugle! :).

    My favourite bit of info given out by OnBlackheath is that they want to use the same security/stewarding company as the one that disperses the crowds after the Blackheath Fireworks. Good idea!

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