On Blackheath – will Greenwich Council fight music festival?

(Update 31 May: Lewisham councillor Kevin Bonavia reports the festival has been postponed for a further year.)

It’s been a long wait, but first details of the On Blackheath music festival, due to take place on 7 and 8 September, will be revealed in the next few days. Long-suffering 853 readers will remember the festival was initially due to make its debut in 2011, but was derailed by a costly court battle brought by the Blackheath Society, which aimed to overturn Lewisham Council’s decision to award it a licence.

The ruling upholding Lewisham’s licence came in July 2011, too late for a festival that year, and the heavy demands on Blackheath during the Olympics kiboshed any chance of a festival in 2012.

While it won the court case, Lewisham Council was criticised by magistrates for a lack of transparency in consulting over the event. It failed to formally tell Greenwich Council about the application, which magistrates called “astonishing”. The festival site, at Hare and Billet Road, runs metres from the boundary between the two boroughs, and all six Greenwich councillors for the Greenwich West and Blackheath Westcombe wards formally objected to the event.

But Greenwich may try to fight the festival again. At a council meeting in March, Blackheath Westcombe Tory councillor Geoff Brighty asked environment cabinet member (and Greenwich West councillor) Maureen O’Mara if the council had heard anything from Lewisham about the festival.

Her response: “Both of us lodged a very strong response against this matter, and if anything happens, we will you know – and I’ll see you at Bromley Magistrates Court!”

It’s difficult to know on what grounds Greenwich could object – the magistrates’ decision in 2011 dismissed fears over noise and public order. But with Greenwich boasting of its own festivals down the hill, it’d be sad to see an attempt to stop an event that organisers hope could pump a much-needed £1 million into the local economy.

In fact, it’d be downright hypocritical to claim disruption from On Blackheath when Greenwich Council remains determined to host unloved half-marathon Run To The Beat a few hundred metres away on the same weekend, a date pencilled in by On Blackheath for 15 months, an event which is likely to cause many more problems.

Sadly, there’ll be no Greenwich Summer Sessions to run alongside On Blackheath this year – just as the Greenwich Festivals lost the comedy festival, the music festival was also kicked out by the Old Royal Naval College, and has been brushed under the carpet by the council which once funded it.

But its organisers determined to stay in SE10, and are putting on Deptford boy Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel at the Borough Hall on Royal Hill on 19 July – it’s good to see a criminally under-used venue put to good use, and hopefully GSS will be back next year.

Finally, anything about festivals in SE London would be a incomplete without mentioning Leefest, at Highams Hill Farm near Biggin Hill, about as far away from Greenwich as you can get while still staying (technically) in the capital. I went in 2011 and it was a fantastic day out – now it’s ballooned to three days (12-14 July) and has raised £50,000 from fans to fund its future expansion. Tickets are still available, and it’s well worth the trip.

Will On Blackheath build up such a dedicated following? We’ll have to wait and see…


  1. It wouldn’t be sad to see it not happen, it’s important to have some quiet green spaces too in an urban area and the festivals that take place in Greenwich are not far away if people want to go to them, so why do we need to fill up every space? The idea that money is all that matters shouldn’t be absolute, if that’s the case then let’s just build a shopping mall everywhere that isn’t making money. There are some things like fairs and sports events that suit that area much better, but a festival with massive speakers and all the litter and crowds will have an impact on the surrounding area for locals and also wildlife, some of which is in a tiny patch of land right next to the site for the festival and so particularly vulnerable. Lewisham awarded the license “in perpetuity” before even seeing if they can do a good job of organising it and controlling the impact. But hey, there’s money to be made, so who cares about anything else.

  2. “It’s difficult to know on what grounds Greenwich could object”. There aren’t any. Licence appeals have strict time limit in which they can be made (which the Bromley case would have adhered to). But now that that process is over and now that the licence is granted, action cannot be taken against it until the licence is in use and then something actually goes wrong! If that happens, residents or the Council have power to review the licence. It’s a “wait and see” situation.

  3. If anyone here complains about On Blackheath (sited on a huge, flat open piece of land for a very short period of time, likely to benefit pubs and restaurants locally) but supported the Olympics being in Greenwich Park (mass disruption, park closed for ages, negative impact on most local businesses – ask them) should perhaps think a bit harder about this.

  4. When I read your claim that Greenwich Council are “boasting” of their festivals, I clicked on your link wondering what horrors you had uncovered with your incisive investigative style.

    It turns out you have “uncovered” a page publicising the range of festivals that Greenwich have organised this summer. Presumably you believe Greenwich should organise festivals but not publicise them?

    Or is this just the latest example of the hyperbole that you employ in this blog?

  5. Mark, firstly let me reassure you that I mean you no harm and there is no malice attached to my comments.

    I think the point being made is simply this, use open public spaces for festivals by all means, advertise them by all means but then don’t object to your neighbours doing the same. That would be hypocracy.

    There we go, Simples

  6. As it happens I agree with you, but only up to a point. Any council that agrees to hold festivals in its area, can’t then be expected to agree to a free for all for any and every proposed festival. The fact that Greenwich has its own festival cannot be reason enough to approve the one planned for Blackheath. By extension, it cannot be described as hypocrisy if there are good reasons for opposing the one on Blackheath. It would only be hypocrisy if different criteria were applied to their own festivals than to those proposed by others.

    As it happens, I have no knowledge myself of the plans for the Blackheath Festival. If it is well organised and appropriate to the location, I personally would support it.

    Incidentally you mentioned one additional festival in the area. Can I also recommend the Hope Festival held at the same location as the one you mentioned? It is very much a family affair and excellent fun. Here is the link:


  7. The perpetual license really bothers me – but I’m looking forward to seeing how the first one pans out.

    And Scared of chives does make a good point. Quite a bit of double standards being applied because people aren’t interested in the event themselves I feel…..

  8. Just to add my tuppense worth, I don’t think you can possibly compare the use of a Royal Park for the worlds largest sporting event that’s NOT for profit (which, as reported on this blog, did significantly less good for local traders than was promised), with a commercial money making event on the open heath (which won’t bring much trade to the local area, as once you’re inside the compound you won’t be allowed to leave and then return and will have to use the catering and facilities provided by the event).

    I fundamentally believe that public spaces should be used for the benefit of the public, however any activity has to considered on its own individual good points and bad points.

    As it happens, I vigorously opposed many details from the original plan for the olympics in the park and I vigorously opposed the original proposal from OnBlackheath for similar reasons: lack of any consideration for damage they might cause, lack of thought for returning the site to its original form, and lack of consideration for local residents during the preparations for the event, during the event itself, and in the clean-up operations after the event.

    Both operations made significant changes to their original plans based on feedback from many interested parties. I liked the final plans for the olympics, particularly as they made considerable efforts to limit damage to the park and return it better than it was when they took it over as well as significantly reducing the amount of time it was closed for. OnBlackheath made similar changes to their plans, and then realised it was too late to put those plans into action and very sensibly chose to delay the event.

    I would hope that OnBlackheath, apparently now to be known as John Lewis OnBlackheath due to corporate sponsorship, will honour their new plans and engage with interested parties (as they promised) as they organise the details for this event. If they involve the wider community (from which I would think they will find most of their customers) then I don’t see any reason why the event shouldn’t be a success.

  9. Could you explain exactly why you think the Olympics is run not for profit? They even passed laws specifically so that companies could make MORE profit during the Olympics.

    I have no problem with the Olympics but claim they are not a commercially driven event is a little naive.

    And I least I could actually buy a ticket for the music event……

  10. sorry, I was being cheeky. I shouldn’t have used the corporate speak expression ‘not for profit’ as that implies a charity or worthy cause rather than an event that is lucky to break even. Clearly the olympics is intended to make enough money to at least pay for itself but that’s not the principle aim of it and the net effect in the long run always seems to damage a country’s economy, but that’s not really a problem as they signify so much more than money.

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