Summer nights at Blackheath drive-in attacked by Greenwich councillor

At the Drive-In
Over 40% of Greenwich residents do not have access to a car

A Greenwich councillor has criticised his own town hall’s decision to allow a drive-in cinema to pitch up on Blackheath – despite the borough not allowing car parking for circuses and other events there.

At The Drive-In – which promotes the motor manufacturer Suzuki – screened Grease on Monday night, the first of 12 drive-in cinema events to take place on Circus Field, next to Greenwich Park, over the coming week. Up to 100 drivers at a time will pay £38.50 to park on the heath so they can watch films and enjoy “car karaoke” sessions.

The council has allowed the event despite its own guidelines for hiring open spaces forbidding car parking. In addition, specific rules for Blackheath drawn up by both Greenwich and Lewisham councils say that promoters should “minimise the use of vehicles on the heath where possible”.

Councillors also declared a climate emergency last year, with a recently-released evidence base calling for a shift away from the use of car traffic, while the council has also said it “needs to avoid a car-led recovery” from the coronavirus crisis.

Greenwich Council tweet
The tweet was deleted after a rival drive-in cinema operator pointed out it linked to them and not the operator of At The Drive-In

Despite this, Greenwich Council tweeted on Monday night that it was putting on the event – to which 42% of the borough’s residents could not attend because they do not have a car -“in partnership” with At The Drive-In. Council leader Danny Thorpe even found time to plug the event in the council’s special email for coronavirus information, cheering: “The public are loving these American-style experiences and it’s proven such a huge success that all tickets locally are sold out!”

However, the tweet was later deleted because it referenced a rival drive-in operator, The Drive-In, based in Enfield. That company found itself bombarded with criticism of the event on Blackheath, including “You didn’t really turn Blackheath into a car park did you? Utterly shameful”, and “it’s all about the people living in a car bubble and stuff the rest of us”.

Greenwich Info email
Council leader Danny Thorpe promoted the event in an email for coronavirus information

The same promoter is holding events around the country – but the others are in car parks. Blackheath is the only one so far on green space.

“I was informally consulted about it and said it was the worst idea I had heard and was against our policy for events on the heath. Why was that our policy from 2018? Because a previous event with parking caused lots of damage to the heath,” Greenwich West Labour councillor Aidan Smith – whose ward covers Circus Field – tweeted on Monday night.

Minutes from a meeting of the Blackheath Joint Working Party – which co-ordinates what happens on the heath – from September 2017 show that Janine Whittaker, a Greenwich Council events officer, told members “that no parking will be provided for any events”, which had resulted in the cancellations of other events such as In The Night Garden and the Foodies Festival.

Smith told 853 yesterday: “I and other councillors, as well as the Blackheath Joint Working Party, objected to this event being held, for amongst other reasons, that it is in breach of the Greenwich events policy. This policy was changed in 2017 to ban parking for people attending events. This change in policy was influenced by the cumulative damage caused to Circus Field from several events which provided visitor parking.

“Another reason was that holding 12 film showings with 100 cars at each event would cause 1,200 unnecessary car journeys at a time when the council has highlighted the need to avoid ‘a car-led recovery’ and has declared a climate emergency. I do not believe that we should be holding car-based events to the exclusion of those who do not have a car and certainly not in our green open spaces.”

Blackheath drive-in
Greenwich’s licensing policy discourages events from allowing parking on the heath

853 understands that the event was allowed via a temporary event notice, which means that residents do not have to be consulted. However, the local authority or police can still object. No temporary event notice for the event is available on Greenwich’s licensing search.

Neither Greenwich Council nor the spokespeople for the event organisers, Mainstage Festivals, have responded to requests for comments from 853.

A separate event, Free Range Film Club, is hosting films on the heath without cars next month.

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