Frequently Asked Questions
FAQ's: Our Chair, Simon Hunt, Answers Your Questions About Park events
Yes, it is true that the ruling at the initial judicial review last year by Lord Justice Supperstone was not in our favour. However, there are some important reasons why we stand a strong chance of having the decision reversed at this appeal. Firstly, we were granted the right to appeal, thereby validating that we had a reasonable argument - our right to appeal would not have been granted if we did not stand a chance of winning the case. Secondly, at this appeal stage, our case will be heard by three more senior court of appeal judges rather than a single high court, thereby offering a greater depth of knowledge and breadth of expertise for passing a judgement on this case, which we think will be to our advantage. Thirdly, there will be an intervention during the appeal hearing by a lawyer representing the Open Spaces society, who are concerned with the protection of parks, commons and other open spaces across the country. Their legal team has dealt with similar cases before, and will offer a novel argument as to why the initial judicial review did not receive the right judgement. Fourthly, there was a case earlier this year in relation to clapham common, in which the council was defeated in their decision to attempt to sell of part of the land within the common to a private company to run a nursery. The man who won the case was relying on the same Act with which we were defeated last year, and so this might represent a turning point in terms of the validity of the Act and the strength of our argument this time round.
It is true to say that local authority budgets have been squeezed in recent times and it would be foolish to ignore this fact. However, while the money generated through event income in Finsbury Park has been increasing, the same cannot be said for the park’s budget. In fact, we have seen the park’s budget decrease consecutively each year, while the number of events has increased enormously. The fact is that the money generated through events in Finsbury Park in a single year greatly exceeds the park’s budget for that year, and so much of the money is being used to subsidise the maintenance costs of parks, buildings and open spaces across the rest of the borough. We would have more than enough money each year for the park generated by a single festival, however, this year Haringey has already shared with us proposals to run 6 separate festivals in Finsbury Park over next summer. Our local authority, Haringey Council, has also brought forward plans to reduce the council’s parks and open spaces budget to zero. That is to say, all parks in Haringey will now be totally dependent upon event income in order to secure that they can be maintained. We do not think this is a sustainable method of funding not just for Finsbury Park, but for any park in London and we think that our legal campaign will send out a message that this is not acceptable.
Certainly we don’t want these events to be cancelled at the expense of festival goers who may have already purchased tickets. But it is important to question whether or not a suburban park such as Finsbury Park is really the best location for some of these large-scale events. London is such a great international cultural destination, which is filled with music halls, arenas and sports venues of international renown. There are so many great places in this city which are designed to be home to large-scale music events such as the ones that Finsbury Park is currently being used for. And yet, instead we have Finsbury park, which is designed to be an open outdoor space free for all to use, is shut off from the public via a 12-foot high steel wall, protected by a private security team who have been tasked with the job of ensuring that the public are kept out of a space which belongs to them, by force if necessary. This is not to mention the serious environmental degradation of the park which takes place during these festivals. Pathways are damaged, the soil is depleted, and the grass has become non-existent in some areas. Of course, some of the grass does eventually grow back after being taken out by a festival, but this is only just in time for when the next festival is on, meaning that it is merely destroyed again! Festivals which are held in large, outdoor spaces in the countryside such as Glastonbury and Reading (which do not occupy public land) have the advantage of being able to rotate the fields that are being used for the festival in order that the fields have sufficient time to recover and be replenished in the interim period. Finsbury Park, which has become home to a number of Festivals now such as the Wireless Festival since 2014, does not enjoy that option, and as a result we have seen the soil quality get materially worse each year, creating serious long-term damage to the park which it is very difficult for it to recover from, even if there were no festivals at all next year.
Calling us Nimby’s could not be further from the truth. Of course, we have particular concern about our own park, our own neighbourhood and our community, but it is not the case that if some of these festivals were to move to some park somewhere else in London, that the problem would go away from us and so we would be supportive of that. On the contrary, this very legal case is about setting a legal precedent for all parks across the capital and local authority owned parks all over the country. If we win our case and it turns out that the continual renting out of the park in our back yard has been unlawful, then it will also not be lawful in any other park anywhere else in London. That’s why our campaign is not just about securing the future of Finsbury Park, it’s about protecting all parks in London and securing their futures too.
These two events couldn’t be further apart. Carnival is a festival of immense cultural significance: it is known world-wide, is one of the biggest street festivals in the world, and is organised by a large number of members of the local community, many of whom participate in the street festivals themselves, and it is open for any one in the world to attend. It is precisely what London is all about. The use of Finsbury Park on the other hand is just a big commercial venture - a collaboration between big multinational festival and record label businesses to exploit the resources and assets of a local community via financial incentives to a lenient local authority who should really know better. While events in Finsbury Park do share similar difficulties with Carnival in terms of noise, road closures, anti-social behaviour, and so on, which I’m sure must affect the residents of Notting Hill in a similar way to those of Finsbury Park, the Carnival is just a two day event, where roads are open the day before and the day after. In the case of Finsbury Park on the other hand, a single festival needs to be closed for the week before and the week after the event. The council has already laid out plans to approve 6 separate festivals in Finsbury Park this summer, and there may well be more in the pipeline. I think even the residents of Notting Hill, who are relatively comfortable with their lives being inconvenienced for one or two days each year, might change their minds if they were disturbed by a Carnival taking place outside their homes every other week!
We have tried desperately hard in the last couple of years to seek compromises with the local authority to secure a funding strategy to safeguard the future of the park - one which does not need to ban all festivals or events in the park outright, but which limits the number of events to a size and level that is sustainable and sympathetic to the needs and the value of a popular grade two listed open space. Instead, rather than seeking to listen to us, and even make some small compromises, Haringey have flatly ignored our view and the views of the local community, and have instead closed down communication with us and have increased the frequency and scale of events to the level that they are at now, with plans to increase them further in the future. Many members of the community have written to us saying that they are seriously concerned about this, and many others have had particularly distressing experiences in relation to the crime and anti-social behaviour that these events bring. Some have even written to us saying that they don’t want to live in this area any more. When people tell us these things, we cannot simply stand by quietly and pretend that the local authority is doing a good job. We have a duty to voice the concerns of the community, and we think that’s what we’re doing with this legal case, which we think is the only available route left open to us to settle this matter once and for all.
Of course, being a small charity run entirely by volunteers as we are, it’s difficult to say with complete certainty that our views represent the entire view of the community, and of course, there are some who are more tolerant of the events in Finsbury Park than others. However, of the people who write to us in relation to the concerts, over 90% of them are considerably opposed to them taking place, or have had bad experiences in relation to it and wish to complain. If we compare our membership figures from before we began our legal action last year to where we are now, we had scarcely 100 members before, whereas we have well over 500 of them now, the vast majority of whom are local residents. I think this represents to a considerable extent an endorsement of our efforts by the local community. And of course, the friends have the backing of our patron, Jeremy Corbyn, who has done so much to help us over the years.
Of course, noise is a major problem, and during some of the events we have conducted our own independent sound monitoring, where found there to be noise levels significantly above the legal limit emanating from Finsbury Park, and we are currently exploring using this to mount a legal challenge via a license review. But the noise element is just one small part of the problem of these events. One of the major ones is crime and anti-social behaviour. Just during the Wireless weekend, for example, the police informed us that dozens of people were arrested, and that there were multiple reports of assault, sexual assault, possession of dangerous weapons, drug dealing, theft and so on. A number of shops close up during the weekend for fear of damage being done to them and items being stolen. One particular person reported to us that they had a group of people attempt to break into her front door, and she had to do her best to keep them away. Another told us of a car driven by drunk festival goers joyriding around residential roads, where they lost control and crashed. Some told us that they were afraid to leave their homes, including a number of elderly and pregnant women. Others said they were particularly worried for their children. And it’s not just that crime and anti-social behaviour takes place during the weekends of the events - it ends up harbouring crime in the park and causes longer term damage. The park is now something of a drugs market where you can enter via some of the gates at night which stay open and get access to a whole suite of illegal substances. Multiple people are beaten up or stabbed in the park, particularly at night, nearly every month. I’m not saying that this is all the fault of the festivals, but this is what happens when a public space is treated as a private venue, rather than as a vibrant green space that is inviting and welcoming to all.
There are always going to be other parks open in London that you can go and visit. But none of them are Finsbury Park. It is our park, and it belongs to our community, and we will not have it taken away from us merely because of the proximity and existence of other parks. London happens to be very fortunate in being a really green city, with a comparatively large number of parks, commons, greens, walks and woodlands compared to other capital cities across the world. These are the things that shape London and that make it such a great place in which to live. However, if we look at parks in terms of their land value, in terms of the opportunity cost on not redeveloping them or renting them out to private individuals, I think we will soon lose sight of the great value that parks have both in terms of making London what it is, but also in terms of the value it contributes to physical and mental wellbeing, in building a sense of community, in controlling emissions levels, and in building a balanced and attractive landscape in which to live. Virtually every study you’ll find about the economic social value of a park such as Finsbury Park will show you that any money that is raised by the park through renting it out does not come near to the economic and social value that the existence of parks can bring. So even if the council can add a few quid to their annual budget, the net social loss to the community in depriving them of their own assets will always be infinitely greater.
- Super event man