Revealed: how London parks are partly privatised over summer time – The Guardian


As chugging guitars reverberated over Finsbury Park final Sunday afternoon, crowds streamed by means of the Manor Home gate previous a banner commemorating the park’s 150th anniversary. Subsequent to it was one other momentary signal: “Welcome! Your park is open as regular.” The assertion was at finest disingenuous – the gates had been definitely open, and so had been lots of the services, however it reasonably ignored the 49,000-capacity competition surrounded by 12-foot-high gray metallic fencing and audible a mile away.

The competition was known as Group, however at £50 a ticket, and with a slender lineup of indie rock, it’s not that sort of group competition. Outdoors the perimeter fencing a father and two kids on their bikes took recommendation from safety workers in hi-vis jackets on the place they had been nonetheless capable of cycle, and when the fencing would come down.

In Blur’s 1994 single, it was “all of the individuals” who went hand-in-hand by means of their parklife. In 2019 London, we ought to be so fortunate. The speedy rise of city-based summer time music festivals has develop into the newest battle within the attritional struggle over the privatisation of public house, which now consists of the query of who has the precise to make use of London’s parks within the warmest months of the 12 months.

Folks calm down within the solar in Finsbury Park. Photograph: David Mirzoeff/PA

Unique new figures obtained by Guardian Cities by means of freedom of knowledge (FoI) requests present that London’s councils are hiring out public parks for industrial, paid-for occasions, resembling music festivals, for giant parts of the summer time. Native authorities had been requested what number of competition days would see parks be off-limits to native residents throughout Could-August due to occasions with an entry payment: of the 30 out of 32 councils that responded, the outer London boroughs of Brent and Enfield scored the very best, with 41 and 42 days respectively; Hackney and Southwark, with 35 and 38 days, scored the very best in internal London.

Furthermore, as park customers know, it’s not simply the times when the festivals are happening which can be disruptive: the heavy-duty stage infrastructure and fencing require days or generally weeks to arrange and de-rig, reducing off entry to substantial components of London’s parks for giant parts of the summer time. Councils had been additionally requested how lengthy that infrastructure would keep up: in lots of circumstances this quantity was greater than 40 days; in Enfield’s case, over 100, the equal of a serious park being privatised for greater than three months.

London boroughs that misplaced 40 or extra days to festivals Could – August 2018

“Parks have develop into a really important commodity,” says College of Westminster tutorial Andrew Smith, whose analysis focuses on dwell occasions and concrete tourism. He says the final decade has seen a a lot better use of parks for giant industrial music festivals, sporting and leisure occasions. “We dwell in what is known as an ‘expertise financial system’ now, the place these sorts of occasions are an more and more massive a part of the way in which wherein individuals spend their cash.”

Together with this heightened demand from Londoners with disposable revenue to spend, he says, there’s the important thing push issue: virtually a decade of swingeing cuts from central authorities. A report by MPs in 2017 discovered that a staggering 92% of parks budgets had been reduce since 2010-11. “Native authorities have develop into determined to subsidise their budgets.”

Kate Nash performs at Community festival in Finsbury Park last weekend

Kate Nash performs at Group competition in Finsbury Park final weekend. Photograph: Mike Lewis Pictures/Redferns

Inevitably, the most important, loudest and longest-lasting occasions appeal to the very best rent payment. “It’s very a lot a monetary calculation,” he says. “And it’s all mixed with the overriding context, which is growing concern in regards to the restriction of entry to public house – I feel persons are extra conscious now of this problem of privatisation of public house.”

Opposition to the industrial use of the parks is rising. Indignant residents are organising to demand entry to fenced-off parks and contesting injury to crops and wildlife, in addition to noise and anti-social behaviour. The marketing campaign by residents close to Battersea Park in opposition to Formulation E racing finally triumphed, and the race has not returned.

In north London, in the meantime, Pals of Finsbury Park has mounted a high-profile battle in opposition to the summer time festivals there, notably over the noise and anti-social behaviour related to Wi-fi competition. In October 2018, it secured licence situations that included decrease quantity limits, and a restriction on “vulgar, obscene or banned songs”, and even “vulgar gestures, actions or remarks through the efficiency”.

These objections drew accusations of Nimbyism and of racist undertones, as Wi-fi has develop into Britain’s premier black music competition. However for Simon Hunt, chair of the group, the issue isn’t Wi-fi competition per se.

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“It’s not simply the times the place the occasions are on, however the weeks both aspect,” he mentioned, echoing the FoI outcomes. “By the point the festivals are lastly gone, there are enormous components of the park with none grass any extra, there’s litter strewn all over the place, damaged pathways and fences.”

Lovebox festival 2017 at Victoria Park.

Lovebox competition 2017 at Victoria Park. It has now moved to Gunnersbury Park. Photograph: Burak Cingi/Redferns

He additionally emphasises the group’s fears that Haringey council has been utilizing their native park as a money cow to fund depleted parks companies.

“Ten years in the past this wasn’t actually an enormous problem,” Hunt mentioned. “There could be one competition or live performance yearly or two. However 5 years in the past, Haringey determined to alter their main occasions coverage to permit for as much as 5 main festivals a 12 months in Finsbury Park, and an infinite variety of smaller festivals. And all of a sudden the variety of occasions elevated enormously.”

Certainly, the phenomenon appears linked to the equally sturdy need to maintain parks free at a time of squeezed council budgets. Enfield council’s head of finance and procurement, Mary Maguire, factors the finger at austerity.

It’s not simply the times the place the occasions are on, however the weeks both aspect

“Because of authorities spending cuts and elevated pressures on companies, Enfield council has needed to save £178m since 2010. In 2019/20 alone, now we have to save lots of £18m,” she mentioned. “As such it’s extra vital than it has ever been for native authorities to discover a spread of various industrial alternatives to lift income.” Maguire additionally mentioned Enfield was one of many greenest boroughs, and most of its parks had been open and event-free all summer time.

Different campaigners are much less apprehensive about noise and disruption and extra in regards to the rising normalisation of privatisation. Certainly one of British parks’ key institutional backers, the Heritage Lottery Fund, has not too long ago inspired native authorities to switch grant revenue with industrial revenue. It has created Affluent Parks, “a inexperienced house revenue technology toolkit”, and pushed promoting, sponsorship and different industrial actions in parks, in addition to hiring for dwell occasions.

“There are a number of boroughs actively aiming for a zero-pound parks funds now,” Andrew Smith says. “They need to see their parks completely self-financed: there’s an implicit concept that the parks ought to pay for themselves.”

Last year’s Field Day festival in Brockwell Park

Final 12 months’s Area Day competition in Brockwell Park. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

In different parks, resembling Gunnersbury, administration has shifted away from native authority management to a group curiosity firm, which might successfully privatise park governance and put it past the democratic accountability that native authorities nonetheless face.

And but, Hunt suggests, there’s some optimism. He says their group is now consulted comprehensively by council and competition organisers alike, and has succeeded in establishing a authorized clarification that income generated by occasions should be spent within the particular park it got here from. “It’s fairly humorous,” says Hunt, “as a result of the council weren’t anticipating this authorized precedent to be set, so that they’ve been scrambling to search out methods to spend cash in Finsbury Park, as a result of they need to.”

Haringey has additionally responded by bunching main festivals in June and September to keep away from interrupting the varsity holidays. A council spokesperson disputed any suggestion that the park was out of bounds to regular residents. “Finsbury Park shouldn’t be, has by no means been and can by no means be an unique plaything for simply ‘comparatively prosperous younger adults going to music festivals.’” The spokesperson additionally pointed to the £1.2m funding within the park generated by the foremost occasions held there, and the 59% discount in authorities funding since 2010.

Some commenters argue that there’s a progressive case to be made for festivals in parks past elevating revenues, resembling disrupting staid Victorian identities and inspiring individuals of all ages, lessons and races to make use of them. If bandstands had been constructed particularly as platforms for the favored public leisure of the 19th century, when most of those parks had been established, why shouldn’t they now host the pop music of 2019?

For Andrew Smith, unpicking the extent to which native campaigners are simply getting labored up about cigarette butts within the flower beds is significant to understanding the function parks play within the 21st-century metropolis.

“Most of those opponents aren’t simply moaners, complaining a few little bit of noise on a Saturday night time,” he says. “A few of them have been defending their native parks for many years, in opposition to numerous types of growth, they usually see these festivals as solely the newest menace.

“Lots of people see parks because the final vestiges of public democracy, accessible for everybody. And there aren’t many locations like that left.”

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