OnBlackheath public meeting – the Revolt: read-out

It has to be said that when at the start of the week, we Radicals glanced through the diary at up-coming events, a public meeting on Thursday at the Conservatiore to discuss ‘issues’ relating to the OnBlackheath festival was not really a contender for most lively evening.  But so it proved…

The chaps behind the festival, along with representatives from Lewisham Council were there and began with thanking people for attending (it looked like there were around 75 people there), briefly talking to some of the frequently asked questions (on parking, road closures, etc.) before opening it up to the floor.  

Heidi Alexander MP was there to provide a (neutral) facilitator for the questions and, from where we sat anyway, did a very good job in difficult circumstances.  In particular the: acoustics in the room were not great (the most frequent cry from the meeting was the plea to ‘Speak up please!’); a couple of people at the front of the room thought it was private meeting between them and the panel and therefore dispensed with the basic etiquette normally associated with such gatherings (like raising ones hand to ask a question); and a number of the panel spoke alternately very quickly/softly.  

So, here’s our summary of some of the points raised at the meeting.  This blog’s view of the festival is well known (we think it’s a great thing for the village and can’t wait to attend) but notwithstanding this, some of the points made were in all fairness quite reasonable.  For example, there’s no doubt something to the many points made about how well the impact of the event has been communicated to residents.  That being said, the bulk of the comments and questions were, as expected, pretty moany, with some verging on the hysterical.  

In roughly chronological order here is our run-down:

• OnBlackheath’s Tom began by summarising some of the things they’d done and organisations they’d worked with in the run up to the event – including the very popular Beach at the Conservatoire, which had attracted an impressive 10,000 visitors and which would, intriguingly, be turned into a grotto in due course.  They also mentioned that they’d worked with the Trussell Trust and local brewers Meantime.
• There will be a shuttle bus service on the Thursday, Friday and Monday to help out on the route of the 380 bus.  
• Several questions about road closures and parking.  OB said they had applied to Lewisham Council for the suspension of some parking zones and that they were willing to seek suspension for further areas.  
• Legitimate questions were raised about how to access the Abridged Event Management Plan, which includes more detail on these matters.  OB promised it would be available on their website (www.OnBlackheath.com).  
• For those with outstanding queries, the organisers undertook to respond directly via email.  Heidi also offered to be copied in to such exchanges if that would help to expedite matters.
• At this point there was a somewhat frenetic contribution bemoaning the ‘ethics’ of the festival as well as invoking a class-based critique that the event was for the middle classes and not residents.  OB confirmed that the bulk of tickets had been sold to SE-postcodes and, from a quick glance round the room, there was little doubt about its predominant social-economic make-up.
• Interestingly, when asked, OB reported that just under 15,000 tickets had been sold for the Saturday and around 10,000 for the Sunday.  Which is relevant to a stream of points about the traffic/people management impact of the event relative to the impact annual fireworks display. Frankly, it’s simply ludicrous to complain that this festival, with less than 1/3 of the 80,000 who attend the fireworks display, and all of whose attendees have tickets, will be as busy/disruptive.
• Then back to the surreal and a fervent call from a chap representing a small group of volunteers who had over the past few years took it upon themselves to look after the pond at the Hare and Billet for some ‘reward’ for their efforts.  We got a sense of the good work they did (and it certainly came as a surprise to us that the excellent pond was in fact maintained in this way and not by the council) before our riparian philanthropists had to leave to attend to “some business”.  We say, give them the money – they deserve it!
• The money in question is a £15,000 pot from OB for improvements on the Heath.  The next meeting of the Blackheath Joint Working Party will discuss how it might be used.  
• Questions about noise (lack of it from the panel and too much of it (in all likelihood….) at the event).  Oh dear.  
• OB confirmed there would he be a manned telephone number throughout the event if residents had any concerns, including about the noise.
• Lewisham Council said that as a condition of approval there would be a post-event public meeting.  The timing was uncertain though mention was made of February and, rightly, the call from the floor was for it to happen before that.  A representative from the Blackheath Society said they would be gathering views on the event via an online survey running from the Sunday of the event and that this would be fed in to the event evaluation.  We look forward both to the survey and to the meeting; if it’s as lively as this one it’ll definitely be one for the diary!

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