Haringey Scrutiny Committee Review of Finsbury Park Events

scrutiny

In August 2015 Haringey Council initiated a Scrutiny Committee review of Finsbury Park events. The stated objectives of the review were:

  1. To understand the impact of recent events held in Finsbury Park to gain a greater understanding of the budget context for parks – including income and where this money is spent – and how this is balanced against the impact on local people and businesses.
  2. To consider the position of Finsbury Park as a major London park contributing to city-wide events.
  3. To reflect on recent large events that have taken place in Finsbury Park, with particular focus on the following: Planning and organisation; Facilities; Policing, security and crowd control; Noise and complaints; Transport, ingress and egress; Damage and arrangements for remediation; and Community engagement.
  4. In the light of the above, to make recommendations to the Council and its partners for improvements in the arrangements for future events that are consistent with the aims and objectives of the Outdoor Events Policy and seek to minimise any potential adverse effect on parks.

The Friends of Finsbury Park Response to the Review

We believe that Haringey Council were put under considerable pressure to conduct this review following the major break-in and associated disorder during the 2015 Wireless Festival. The levels of anti-social behaviour and drug-dealing during Wireless, the major damage to the fabric of the park and the hazardous materials left on site after the departure of Wireless are also likely to have been factors contributing to an urgent review.

The Friends of Finsbury Park (FOFP) welcomed the review but regretted that its terms of reference were drawn too narrowly and did not include consideration of whether such events should continue.

The FOFP were invited to give evidence to the review and did so on Monday 24th August 2015. We stated that the FOFP were not opposed to all events in Finsbury Park and this had always been our position. We reminded the Scrutiny Committee that we had not opposed the circuses or fun fairs, charity events or such events as RISE (the ant-racism festival) or PRIDE (the gay pride festival). Nor had we opposed the Mean Fiddler events, such as the Fleadh. We said that the central issue was one of the suitability and manageability of events in such a location; our position was that large-scale events such as Wireless are unacceptable because of their scale and unmanageability. The noise generated and the disturbance and dislocation to park users and local residents were also major reasons for ending these events.

The following are some of the other FOFP arguments put to the Scrutiny Committee in opposition to the continuation of Wireless and similar large scale events:

  • The enclosure of, and sustained loss of public access to, a large area of Finsbury Park during the height of summer.
  • Large and unmanageable. 45,000 per day crowds are excessive for this location.
  • The high barriers forming the perimeter fence overshadow the park and, particularly, the playgrounds and are unacceptable.
An 8 foot high fence blocked access to most of the park

An 8 foot high fence blocked access to most of the park

  • The major negative impact on the park areas lying outside the barriers including the siting of the main Wireless ‘storage area’ for set-up/take-down at the hard surface next to the basketball courts. (An area completely excluded from the Wireless site map).
  • The noise and diesel fumes from large numbers of frequently speeding heavy vehicles on the main carriageway adversely impacted park users throughout the three week occupation of the park by Wireless.
  • The unacceptably loud noise and disturbance on the event days and sound checks.
  • Increased levels of anti-social behaviour, particularly drug-dealing, within the park and areas bordering the park.
  • The littering of the park and surrounding neighbourhoods with discarded nitrous oxide cylinders and drugs paraphernalia, much of which remained long after the post-Wireless clean up.
'Laughing gas' canisters in the grass

‘Laughing gas’ canisters in the grass

  • Hazardous items, including large metal spikes and metal bolts strewn across the site and which remained in place after Wireless had departed.
  • Serious damage to the fabric of the park (Road surfaces, trees, grass, benches etc).
  • Major disruption to the local community caused by road closures and congested local transport.
Fence stakes left unattended outside the children's playground

Fence stakes left unattended outside the children’s playground

  • Associated negative impact and media publicity around break-ins etc tarnishes the image of Finsbury Park. This works directly against attempts to brand Finsbury Park as a welcoming space and to regenerate the wider Finsbury Park area.
  • Harm to children caused by the disturbance to their education by noisy events on school days and by loud music being blasted into local homes until 10.00pm on nights before school days.

We presented the Committee with photographic evidence illustrating the damage to the park and the hazardous materials left on site. We also asked the Committee to consider encouraging a public dialogue on alternatives to Wireless. We emphasised that we had our own ideas on possible alternatives and said that we would be happy to discuss these further and to explore more imaginative solutions to the funding of parks. We reminded them that we had included this suggestion in our formal response to the Haringey budget consultation.

Local MP David Lammy surveys the damage to grass in the 'Serengeti' area.

Local MP David Lammy surveys the damage to grass in the ‘Serengeti’ area.

In conclusion, we thanked the Scrutiny Committee for inviting us to present evidence and urged them to recommend that Wireless and any event on a similar scale should not be permitted in Finsbury Park.

The Finsbury Park Events Scrutiny Project – Report

The Scrutiny Committee published its report in early October. The FOFP were profoundly disappointed with the report and its conclusions (click here for the full report). The report’s recommendations sought to prop up the existing events policy rather than to recommend any radical changes. We saw it as an exercise in, at best, limited mitigation rather than a report which accurately reflected the concerns raised by the FOFP. The Chair of the Committee, Councillor Charles Wright, said in his introduction to the report that “Income does not trump other concerns regardless” We were astonished by this assertion, particularly since the Council’s main argument for the need to host major events in Finsbury Park has been the necessity to generate income from its’ parks to help offset the central government cuts inflicted on local councils.

On the 19th October 2015, a FOFP deputation was allowed a three minute presentation to the public hearing session of the Scrutiny Committee. We expressed our disappointment with the report and asked the committee to rewrite its findings to include a recommendation to end similar Wireless-type events in Finsbury Park. Some members of the Committee then put questions to us (see full video here and press report here). A number of individual questions were taken from members of the public, none of which were satisfactorily answered. Our overall impression was of a process which was heavily weighted against any meaningful challenge and which had generated more heat than light. The Scrutiny Committee subsequently approved their report unanimously.

The next stage in this process is the Cabinet Committee meeting on Tuesday 15th December, being held at the Civic Centre at 6.30pm. The Scrutiny Committee report will be considered for approval by the full Haringey Council Cabinet. This will be our final opportunity to challenge the reports’ findings and the FOFP will again be presenting a deputation. We urge all members to show their support by attending the meeting on Tuesday 15th December.