Austerity means councils are increasingly looking for commercial income to fund key services. Hiring out public space to event organisers is one way to generate funds, and there were 10 multi-day music festivals staged in London’s parks this summer, as well as many other day-long events.
The increased scale and frequency of park based festivals means they are increasingly opposed by local residents and campaign groups. These disputes – particularly the one between Haringey Council and the local Friends Group over events staged in Finsbury Park - highlight important issues regarding the funding and management of public space.
In contrast to festivals outside of London that are usually held on private land and therefore increase public access to private space, events in the capital are shrinking the amount of unrestricted access to parks. Green space plays an important and necessary part of urban life for the city’s eight million residents and 19 million tourists each year.
Urban geographer Dr Andrew Smith from the University of Westminster, whose two year research project focused on Finsbury Park, Gunnersbury Park and Brockwell Park, said:
“London parks are prestigious spaces that attract lucrative hire fees, but this inevitably has a knock-on effect for park use. Local people complain about noise and disruption but there’s also a wider ideological concern about privatisation.”
In addition to people being unable to access cordoned off spaces, the physical and environmental impacts of events are proving problematic. Temporary installations and towering fences dramatically change the landscape of parks, disrupting what are meant to be open, free and accessible green spaces that provide respite from the built-up environment.
It is often assumed these effects are temporary, but Dr Smith’s research suggests there are enduring legacies. Festivals provide precedents for further commercialisation and they can result in permanent changes to park environments.
Dr Smith proposes that councils reassess the number of festivals they permit; and recommends that regulations be put in place to limit the amount of time and space that events can take up. This would prevent local authorities over-exploiting their parks as commercial assets. He also warns against relying on revenue from festivals to pay for parks. Events are often moved or discontinued, leading to funding black holes for local councils.
In the first nine months of 2018, Finsbury Park will have been occupied by festivals for 113 days (up from 29 days in 2015). These figures include set up and derig of events. This has led to the Chair of the local Friends Group claiming that Finsbury Park “can no longer be called a park”.
The number of days where events are permitted somewhere on the heath between April and October is now 90 days per council per year (Greenwich and Lewisham councils), including set up and derig, and not including the London Marathon event, which uses parts of the heath managed by both councils. This allows for a possible number of event days on Blackheath of 180, plus 7 for the Marathon, most of which would be likely to occur in the April to October period.
According to Wandsworth Borough News, in 1991 Battersea Park hosted approximately 99 events and by 2016 Battersea Park was staging over 600 events per year.
Notes to editors:
1. For further media enquiries, including press passes and interview requests, please contact RGS-IBG’s Press Officer, Giulia Macgarr, at email@example.com or 020 7591 3019.
2. Dr Andrew Smith’s presentation is taking place on Friday 31 August at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference at Cardiff University. The conference is being held from August 28 – 31. It is the largest geography conference in Europe, with more than 360 sessions and 1,300 papers being presented. Full details on the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2015 can be found at https://www.rgs.org/research/annual-international-conference/
3. The Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) is the learned society and professional body for geography. Formed in 1830, our Royal Charter of 1859 is for 'the advancement of geographical science'. Today, we deliver this objective through developing, supporting and promoting geographical research, expeditions and fieldwork, education, public engagement, and geography input to policy. We aim to foster an understanding and informed enjoyment of our world. We hold the world's largest private geographical collection and provide public access to it. We have a thriving Fellowship and membership and offer the professional accreditation 'Chartered Geographer’. www.rgs.org