Seaside villagers slam music festival plan

A BID to host a 15,000-capacity music festival on the north Northumberland coast was slammed as ‘speculative’ and ‘uncertain’ at a hearing this week, writes Ben O’Connell.

Residents, the local councillor and the police all spoke out against the plans for the proposed Multigroove Festival at Springhill Farm, near Seahouses, which one resident said had caused ‘sleepless nights’.

The licensing hearing at Seahouses Sports and Community Centre on Tuesday was adjourned after eight hours for a decision next Wednesday.

The primary objections, aside from residents’ concerns, came from the police.

Jonathan Rodger, representing Northumbria Police, said the police bill for the event, which organisers would have to foot, would be £250,000, significantly higher than the £30,000 paid by production company Ear to the Ground for a similar festival, Kendal Calling, in Cumbria.

He pointed out that the nearest 24-hour police station with a custody unit was in Bedlington, while the nearest 24-hour accident and emergency department was at Wansbeck General Hospital.

“The site is hopelessly inaccessible,” he added.

Tom Sabin, from the production group, conceded Penrith, six miles from the Cumbrian venue, offered more accessible emergency provision at that event.

Mr Rodger said he would have expected to see a ‘very detailed specification’, not this ‘speculative’ application for a four-day festival due to take place at the end of August/beginning of September this year.

“It’s an empty vessel which will be filled with drink later,” he said.

And he pointed out that Northumbria Police had been stung for the bill for a previous festival, at Matfen, in 2006.

Coun Pat Scott, who represents the Seahouses area, said: “I wouldn’t be standing here if I thought it would be an opportunity for Seahouses.

“Glastonbury was started by a man from the local community. He has put hundreds of thousands of pounds back into the local community – that’s not going to happen here.”

But Richard Williams, for the applicants, said that Springhil Farm was ‘absolutely ideal for an outdoor festival’.

“My view is this is going to be a very, very successful festival,” he said.

“As committee members you have to grasp this opportunity for your area and the North East.”

The hearing looked at the four licensing objectives – crime and disorder, public safety, public nuisance and protecting children from harm – in turn.

With regard to crime and disorder, Chief Inspector Aidan Sloan pointed out that the force had to ‘prepare for the worst but hope for the best’, and that without details of audience profile and acts, a cost of £250,000 was appropriate.

Another issue for the policing of the event was that all police leave nationally has been cancelled for the Olympics, meaning there may be a strain on staffing with officers on leave when the festival is on.

The organisers made clear that there will be a full security and stewarding team, searches upon entry and Challenge 21 identification checks for alcohol on top of an entry policy of over-18s only.

Residents were concerned about festival-goers coming out to Seahouses itself and the beach in large numbers.

Alan Ingham, of promoters Nightwatch, said that people were unlikely to pay for an expensive ticket in order to sit on the beach. There would also be an ‘encouraged’ curfew of 9pm to return to the site.

The public safety element focused in large part on the traffic management plan.

It estimates 6,000 cars will come to the festival, 65 per cent travelling northbound and 35 per cent travelling southbound and arriving over two days (Thursday and Friday).

Andrew Ross, of Hatton Traffic Management, said this would equate to three cars a minute.

He said that temporary traffic measures can be used to deal with potential problems at difficult junctions or narrow sections of road.

Mr Rodger, referring to the inbound traffic from the south coming in at Denwick at a ‘very significant junction on the A1 with a number of other demands on it’ and the busy coastal roads in summer, said that the road network was ‘inadequate’ for an event of this nature.

After watching a video of certain sections of the route, Mr Ross pointed out that this was without any traffic management in place.

But Mr Rodger said: “Your traffic management plan won’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.”

Other issues discussed included noise and what would happen if under-18s did turn up and were refused entry.

The hearing will reconvene on Wednesday at 9.30am at County Hall, Morpeth, with a decision expected at noon.

l LAST-GASP funding has meant another festival in the village will go ahead this year.

Seahouses Festival, which had to be cancelled last year, was saved by a £4,000 donation from the village’s Co-op store.