Brockwell Park - Lost in Music

In looking at the future of large music events in Brockwell Park, it can be informative to take a look back at the past, when the Park hosted everything from reggae festivals, to a CND peace festival (headlined by Madness), to London Pride, and even a cannabis festival from 2000-2004.

The Bon Bonne music nightclub opposite Brockwell Park on Norwood Road, entertained generations of clubbers from 1975 until its closure in 2005, following a determined campaign, led by gentrifying families buying up property close to Rosendale Primary School, to get Southwark Council to revoke its entertainment license.

Many in the local area still remember the Carnival 2, Rock Against Racism event in Brockwell Park on 24 September 1978, and for good reason. This is how the Sounds magazine review by Garry Bushell describes the scene.

Anti Nazi League Rock Against Racism poster 1978, Brockwell Park

"All them people — I can't see where they end."
A pre-teens boy perched on his dad's shoulders stared open-mouthed around Brockwell Park at "all them people" — Lambeth Council's official estimate was 150,000, ITV News said 60,000, take your pick. Either way there were more there than even Vicky Park.

It’s clear from the contemporary photos, that the crowd was indeed probably nearer to the Lambeth Council estimate, with many people climbing trees for a view of the stage, and judging by the sheer numbers standing behind Sham 69 singer Jimmy Pursey in photographer Syd Shelton's iconic photo of the gig. Sham 69 had actually pulled out of the line-up for the carnival after receiving death threats, but Jimmy had decided he was going to have his say anyway. So he burst onto the stage just as Aswad finished, and gave a passionate speech against racism. "No one's gonna tell me what I can and can't do", he shouted to the assembled masses, "I'm here 'cos I support Rock Against Racism". 

Sham 69's Jimmy Pursey onstage in Brockwell Park, 1978

It was a moment, along with Elvis Costello’s headlining slot that defined an era.

Elvis Costello onstage in Brockwell Park, 1978


For the quick read see this straightforward Brixton Buzz report:

In the light of Brixton Buzz report I’ll amend mine to fill in any gaps or expand points in their report and add my personal views which are to be taken as subjective, not objective, so do come back with any comments or criticisms. Before I continue, here are email addresses to which you can write to make representations, and which should be done no later than this Sunday 21st January 2018, unless the deadline is extended.

copies can be made to Cllr Sonia Winifred


and if you are complaining, to

The meeting was packed out and well chaired by Giles Gibson of Herne Hill Forum.

Brief statements were made by the four people on the platform; Councillor and Cabinet member Sonia Winifred who will make the Yes/No decision prior to further processes such as Premises Licence granting and ‘possible’ planning permission, Lee Fiorentino from Lambeth's Events Department (‘there are 245 events per year in Lambeth parks’), John Drape from Field Day who, as quite a confident speaker, did most of the speaking from their side and Rob Silver from Love Box who said very little.

Lee explained the stages leading to approval or otherwise, as follows:

1) The technical assessment (about November 2017)

- which, Lee explained, includes an as yet not made public biodiversity impact assessment by Lambeth’s Biodiversity Officer, Dr Iain Boulton (020 7926 6209) iboulton@lambeth. A brief search online shows he is a member of the Association of Local Government Ecologists and has led bat walks on Clapham Common where two species of bat were discovered in 2013, so presumably his biodiversity assessment would be crucial.

2) Safety assessment

3) Public consultation (current stage, ending 21/01/2018)

4) Political approval or rejection 29/01/18

5) Premises licence and possible planning permission

Final permission, said Lee Fiorentino, isn’t given until about one month before the event, but it’s difficult to imagine how after stage 4 approval that stage 5 could be anything more than a formality.

Some facts and figures might be worth mentioning next. Chair Giles made an estimate, based on ticket prices and projected attendance figures that Field Day takings could amount to £3,500,000 and Love Box’s to £9,000,000. Each festival will pay Lambeth about £500,000 according to Lee (the exact figure being ‘commercially sensitive’) of which £60,000 will be earmarked for Brockwell Park’s management. The remainder will be ringfenced to Lambeth’s Events Department, not going towards general council expenditure, so presumably will have no bearing on any of the cuts etc. No, this would not mean the Fireworks Festival would be free.

What also was revealed was that a significant factor in Tower Hamlet’s decision to award the use of Victoria Park for festivals to AEG instead of Love Box and Field Day (LB&FD) was that AEG could stage their proposed events, including all set-up and derigging time, in only 14 days within which there would be 8 days of music. This compares to something like 42 days of disruption and exclusion for the festivals in Brockwell Park, exactly three times the length of disruption that Victoria Park is prepared to put up with. This detail is conspicuously absent in LB&FD’s publicity, which trumpets how Victoria Park’s locals just loved having them there.

As for contributions from the floor I’ll start with the four teenagers, aged perhaps 15 or 16, sitting at the front and given the opportunity by the chair to speak up in favour of the festivals. They were frequently interrupted and the chair had to remind people to allow them to speak. It is very seldom that teenagers come forward to speak at any public meetings and for schoolchildren to be treated so shabbily and disrespectfully, albeit by only a small minority of the mostly middle aged and elderly audience, was quite shameful to observe.

One boy said the festival he had attended last year had introduced him to music and “was the best day of my life”. One girl asked people not to be rude and cynical about young people who do care for the environment, saying that people being precious about the green grass they can see in front of them should also consider their own impact on the environment when they take a flight or tuck into a meat heavy lunch, a fair point I thought. These events, she went on, help the mental health of the young people who attend them, this being in answer to the point that had been raised earlier about the park being an important contribution to local people’s mental wellbeing, fair points on both sides, I would say. The number of people benefitting from the festivals (40,000 festivalgoers) was compared with the number of people who’d suffer from temporary disturbance (just a few thousand).

The park’s Grade I listing for nature conservation was raised, including the presence of woodpeckers and grasshoppers, and concern for the numerous saplings. John replied that they had good experience as they had to look after the trees in the grounds of listed country houses where they held festivals. This made me think that perhaps such grounds of stately homes in the heart of the countryside might be more appropriate venues than relatively small parks in densely populated urban areas.

It was when a speaker asked about the impact on the park’s biodiversity that Lee revealed that at Stage 1 (technical assessment) Lambeth’s Biodiversity Officer, Dr Iain Boulton had been consulted. Chair Giles requested that his report be made public and it was queried from the floor how we had got close to the end of stage three without this information being placed on the council’s website. Both a local councillor and Helen Hayes M.P. requested that the consultation deadline of 21st January be extended, the councillor asking that her extension request be responded to within 24 hours i.e. by the time I am writing this.

Another speaker raised the concern that much of the park would be out of bounds for long periods in the summer to families who might not be able to afford to go on holiday and for which the park served as their holiday venue. In response John emphasised how the main pathways through the park would be kept open during most of the setting up and derigging periods, illustrating this with slides showing the pathways. This begs the question as to whether people would want to go to the park just to walk on pathways between lines of fencing. The slide shown was slightly disingenuous in that Cressingham Gardens, while marked as such, was shown in green and conjoined seemlessly to the park, thus giving the visual impression that the park extended right up to Tulse Hill, making the area of the park to be fenced off look proportionately smaller. Visually to me it was questionable whether the actual proportion of park to be fenced off was nearer to 40 per cent.

An elderly resident of Dulwich Road raised great concern that she’d have hours of loud music just a few metres from the back of her house, and the plan as projected on screen seemed to confirm this despite Rob or John suggesting that that field, just north of the Lido, shown as being completely fenced off, was merely an access point for the park.

A Brixton Water Lane resident was concerned about 40,000 people leaving the park via the main entrance. John countered by saying that people would start leaving at 7pm for ‘other events’ such as after parties, that there wasn’t a final headline act that would keep people there to the very end, a claim I found rather hard to believe. You pay up to eighty quid for a festival and leave half way through? Come on. Also, there would be the Herne Hill exit, he said, but it was confirmed later that Herne Hill railway station would at some point in the evening close for departures, for safety reasons.

A quote from Josh Peck, a Tower Hamlets councillor dismissed as ‘a committed opponent of Lovebox’ by Rob, was read out, which described a litany of problems with Love Box, such as urination in front gardens, inadequate stewarding etc. John said that he could not guarantee that there wouldn’t be any such urination problems but that ‘we will have a jet wash team on standby to deal with any such problems as soon as they are phoned in’. Not sure what’s worse for roses - being pissed on or being jet washed.

One person pointed out that the Field Day festival would be held during exam revision time, setting back local young people at a critical time.

What would happen if there was a deluge of rain during the Love Box festival, asked someone else. If the ground were to get seriously churned up the Lambeth Country Show, just seven days after Love Box, would have to be called off. John agreed that there had been one year when it had rained so much that Victoria Park turned into a quagmire, resulting in large sections of the park being fenced off for weeks afterwards, to allow the grass to recover, with repairs amounting to £39,000 paid for by Love Box. The only reassurance that John could offer in relation to Brockwell Park was that it had only happened once and the chance of it happening again this year was very small and all reinstatement costs would be paid for by the festival organisers, not Lambeth Council. In response to a query about moving Love Box to after Lambeth Country Show, so that it was Love Box that took the greater risk, Rob said that the date wasn’t moveable.

After the meeting I saw the teenagers sitting outside looking rather despondent. I asked them whether they had considered festivals outside London such as those on large country estates, but they said that they were too expensive, cost hundreds of pounds and for London festivals their travel was free. I told them it was brave for anyone to stand up in a large meeting where it was obvious the vast majority of the meeting was opposed to your views and to express those views in the face of such opposition.

Later I took to pondering my younger days, starting with a precursor to Glastonbury at Shepton Mallett with Pink Floyd premiering Atom Heart Mother, then going to the Albion Fairs in East Anglia in the early eighties, such as the Rougham Tree Fair, set in two beautiful fields, three stages, jugglers, a superb French mime artist, Incubus Theatre’s wacky exploits, female acrobatics troupe the Cunning Stunts, comedy and a maximum attendance figure of about 5,000. Yes, just 5,000, absolutely delightful and no agro for the locals. Pre-internet, you had to be on the grapevine, which in this case meant being a reader of The Waveney Clarion. Later I took to going to world music festival WOMAD, first near Reading and latterly in Wiltshire. Ever growing it got to the stage where you had to choose between standing at the back of the crowd with the performers appearing as small dots in the distance, or standing near the front and getting deafened by the loudspeakers or standing directly in front of the stage, so between the loudspeakers and therefore bearable but at risk of being crushed or danced upon, so I retreated to the two small stages, such as the Radio 3 Stage. After that I gave up, as I felt WOMAD was no longer on a human scale.

Commercial forces push for ever larger festivals, but music can be heard in smaller venues without paying hundreds of pounds, although that may not be currently possible for the particular musicians the LB&FD crowd want to hear. So, given that many objectors to these festivals are no angels themselves when it comes to caring for the environment, as one young festival supporter alleged, should local people stock up on earplugs, gain extra exercise by walking to Clapham Common for the duration and accept some garden urine as free compost? I don’t believe that two wrongs can make a right. If aspects of our lifestyles are damaging to the environment that is no justification for further damaging the environment by permitting these huge festivals to take over Brockwell Park. Let’s see what Dr Iain Boulton’s report says.

Given the large, angry and vociferous turnout to yesterday's Herne Hill meeting, the proximity of local elections, the complete alienation of most residents of Cressingham Gardens Estate and the retreat of our current and prospective Tulse Hill ward councillors into a sort or head-in-the-sand ostrich silence over these festivals, the council might be at risk of losing seats in May to the Green Party if it doesn’t take note of local feelings. I suspect that just might swing the balance against the wishes of some out-of-this-area teenagers…


Just to update you on point one, Lee Fiorentino has since admitted that he is unable to provide any evidence of the existence of the environmental impact report by Dr Ian Bolton which he referred to in the meeting. Not even informal emails.

He said:

"The reports in regards to environmental, biodiversity and conservation in relation to these events have not be done yet and as I said in the meeting no decision has been made. Once a decision has been taken then the event organisers can proceed with developing those management plans and reports."

So the impact report will not form part of the decision whether to proceed but will be prepared by the events promoters later. The same credible teams who at the meeting said they were unaware that they'd caused £40,000 of damage to Victoria park grass alone, and had to leave one third of the park industrially fenced off for seven weeks whilst it recovered.

In the meeting on 18th January Lee Fiorentino said that biodiversity impact assessments are made by their Biodiversity Officer, Dr Iain Boulton at Stage 1 of the process which in the case of these festivals was last November. We are now at Stage 3 (until midnight tonight!). Are you saying that you've had an email from Lee Fiorentino since the 18th January meeting with the above text? This is barely credible. You are alleging that Lee Fiorentino is now saying that they will only take place AFTER a decision has been made to allow a festival to go ahead, a complete reversal of what he said in the meeting, or is my interpretation of the English language completely topsy-turvy? Can you publish your email correspondence in full, with headers showing who it was sent from, showing the time and date it was sent? Here follows a transcript of the relevant section of the meeting, with time in minutes and seconds from when chair Giles Gibson opened the meeting:

43mins 25secs (43.25) Chair: This is about biodiversity, more than just grass.

Helen Birmingham (HB): Hello, I think everyone here knows the park - it is very rich in wildlife, everyone here uses the park on a regular basis, sees the woodpeckers, hears the grasshoppers, enjoys that. You probably know that the park has status for nature conservation, that it is considered of Grade 1 for the borough as a  site of importance for Nature Conservation. The borough notes in its Local Plan that any damage to a site of Grade 1 would be significant loss to the borough. There is also legislation called NERC Act [The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006] which I’m sure you know about which means that the local authority is expected to consider biodiversity in all its actions, not just in planning. So my question basically is, how has Lambeth considered the biodiversity so far, and at what stage is this taken in the decision making processes?

44.40 Lee Fiorentino (LF): So with all event applications we work very closely with our partners in the Parks Department and we work very closely with a gentleman by the name of Dr Iain Boulton, who is the Biodiversity Officer for us. So he basically is part of the assessment process for all events. He let’s us know if an event is going to have an impact on a particularly sensitive area within the park and that it would be advisable not to have an event near to a particular area, so we get a lot of input from him for pretty much all of our event applications.

45.20 HB: …so what’s he saying, what’s he saying about that? 

45.22 LF: In general, you know I don’t know word for word…

45.28 HB: What’s he saying about the grass, what’s he saying about the woodpeckers and about the bats, not just in general, what’s he saying?

45.38 LF: In general based on the event applications he will let us know whether there is any particular…

45.42 HB: When, when?

45.44 Chair: Where is the report, as I think people would like to know, so they can see what the assessment is?

45.48 HB:  At what stage in the decision making process is this?

45.50 Lee: This is at Stage 1, the technical assessment for an event that goes into the park, so we talk to our colleagues in the Parks Department…

46.00 HB: Will there be another meeting once you’ve had these discussions?  This is all very [worrying? unintelligble]

46.10 Clapping

46.18 HB: ..when you have the answers…angry… [commotion]

46.35 Chair: Let’s keep the information flowing. Nature and the biodiversity is really important. There’s a lot of people who spend a long time doing little things, it’s incremental year after year through the decades to get the park being as rich in biodiversity as it is. I think Lee if you’ve got that report, I think it should be made very public. [Clapping]  So in other words, what are you measuring for, and what are you going to measure afterwards which may influence, if any event takes place, whether it would happen for a second time?

47.15 LF: That’s fine, we can basically share the information that we receive from our colleagues about a particular event. When we consult with him he always sends us an email with a follow up so happy to share information on any particular event, especially in reference to the two events, and what we can do is we can put that information within the pro forma document.

47.35 Anon: But you’ve already said that you’ve progressed from Part 1 [clapping] ..this is Part 3…

47.44 LF: Yes but this is the initial technical assessment that we talk to officers and colleagues about…

47.50 Anon: But how do get get to Part 3 without us knowing about Part 1?

47.53 LF: Because we need to get… [interruptions]

47.57 Chair: I think the issue is that you may have done the work but the community have never seen it so how are we supposed to judge, how are we supposed…  If it is not transparent, honest and up front it’s not on. So that document needs to be made public as soon as possible so if you can send it to me tomorrow I can put it up on the website.

48.15 Anon: And we need a timeline

48.18 Chair: And we need a timeline as to how it fits in to the process.

48.20 Anon: [a comment barely audible about regular information]

From: Fiorentino,Lee []
Sent: 19 January 2018 11:58
To: XX
Cc: XX; XX; XX; Winifred,Sonia Cllr <>; EventLambeth Operations <>; parksdevelopment <>; parksoperations <>
Subject: RE: Biodiversity, environmental and conservation reports


Hi XX,


Many thanks for your email.


We are speaking with our colleagues in the parks service to put together information on the park biodiversity and events. Once we have this I will send this over to you. As mentioned in the meeting last night we work very closely with our parks colleagues when looking at any proposals for events in the park and they advise us on areas of sensitivity that need to be considered by event organisers. This is an informal working relationship as we are under the same department and we don’t write reports for every discussion we have about initial event proposals.


The parks service are also part of the Safety Advisory Group and have provided feedback comments on the event proposals which are included in the Event Pro-forma reports for both events which are available on the Herne Hill Forum website


The reports in regards to environmental, biodiversity and conservation in relation to these events have not be done yet and as I said in the meeting no decision has been made. Once a decision has been taken then the event organisers can proceed with developing those management plans and reports.


The initial technical assessment at Stage 1 has been done, however Stage 2 safety assessment will continue right through to the event delivery and this includes ongoing engagement with colleagues, partners and stakeholders.


Kind regards,


The teenagers that were at the meeting were all 18/19 year olds. They all attended Southwark and Lambeth schools and now study, work and live in the boroughs. They are part of the community and why we vilify our young people is beyond me.