Could Gunnersbury Park Have Seen Its Last Lovebox Festival?

Organisers gain permission for event in East London next year

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Friends of Gunnersbury Park and Museum

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The organisers of the Lovebox and Citadel festivals have been given permission to hold an event next year in East London which has led to speculation that they may be planning to move from Gunnersbury Park.

Mama Festivals are to hold a similar weekend event in Wanstead Flats in September next year with 50,000 people expected each day after their application to City of London Corporation, who own the land, was approved. Before the switch to Gunnersbury Park two years ago the event had been held in Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets.

They still need to get premises licence approval from Redbridge Council and local residents’ groups say they will be objecting to the plan on the grounds of noise, disruption and the impact on local wildlife.

Earlier this month Mama Festivals reported back to residents around Gunnersbury Park about this year’s festival.

They revealed that the audience across the three days was 84,052 paid-for tickets and 2444 free tickets giving a total of 86,496 attendees. Last year the overall total was 110,915 and it has been suggested that the line-up of acts this year was not as attractive plus there has been an increase in similar events across London. The organisers have now proposed an earlier date for next year on the grounds that it would make it easier for them to sign up better acts. If there is a festival in Gunnersbury Park next year the planned dates are 12-14 June.

There were 31 arrests and 29 complaints about noise, which was very similar to last year and 361 people were given medical treatment. According to the Friends of Gunnersbury Park most of the 140 contacts (by phone and email) were about traffic, noise and anti-social behaviour. While the organisers claimed that these low numbers were a sign of success, the Friends suggest that it could be that local people don’t complain because they know it be ineffective. Also, it was clear from the comments at the meeting that, despite some limited publicity locally, people find it hard to know how to complain effectively.

The organisers claimed that improved stewarding had been successful. The Friends say that the attempt to divert the crowds to Ealing Broadway up the North Circular Road had been ineffective, though the residents of the shortest route via Elderberry Avenue had certainly had difficulties with the numbers of pedestrians (and late on each evening with traffic and taxis collecting festival goers). Some participants at the meeting said that things outside the park had been better organised this year, particularly with rubbish collection and some aspects of traffic management. Others said they were prepared to put up with noise and difficulties due the enjoyment it gave to those attending and the income helped make the Park and Museum sustainable.

It was also pointed out that the notices about the E3 bus routes from TfL were inaccurate and unhelpful. There were also comments about aggressive driving by delivery contractors (after a complaint, one contractor had then been told their driver was no longer going to be admitted to the Park) and work going on until 2am and resuming at 5am which interrupted the sleep of Lionel Road residents. The Mama Festivals representative apologised for failures in traffic management which he recognised had caused difficulties.

The Friends say that, based on their direct observation on the Saturday, the impact on the hinterland of festival-goers carrying on partying, and the roads clogged with traffic with drivers using their horns in frustration, meant that there was more noise later in the evening than there had been from the loudspeakers. Mama Festivals rejected any responsibility for this. The taxi/uber exit (junction of Lionel Road and Pope’s Lane) was slow and poorly managed and added to the congestion in the neighbouring streets. Throughout all of the three days, online traffic maps showed the northbound North Circular from the roundabout to Popes Lane as completely congested.

The CEO of the Community Interest Company (CIC), which manages Gunnersbury Park was asked why Mama Festivals had been given permission to put on these events without the whole process having gone out to tender. He explained that the first event (2018) was an agreement between Mama Festival and Ealing and Hounslow Councils. After that event the CIC was in a position to negotiate and made a five year agreement, on more favourable terms, of which 2019 was the first year. He therefore confirmed that there had not been a tender process and that these events would continue until 2023. He stressed the financial importance to the CIC.

He was asked about the grant of permission to Mama Festivals for an event on Wanstead Flats and said that he was unaware of this. The representatives of Mama Festivals at the meeting said nothing.

A spokesperson for the CIC told us, "We have not been given notice that they will be moving Lovebox to Wanstead Flats in 2020 and we have been given verbal assurance by MAMA that Lovebox and Citadel will take place at Gunnersbury Park next year as in 2019 as per the contract we have with them."

We have asked Mama Festivals for a comment but they have not yet responded. Cllr Dabrowska was told by them thatthey are putting on different festival at Wanstead Flats, not moving Lovebox.

August 14, 2019

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