OnBlackheath: getting the balance right between music and nuisance

On Blackheath logoSo now we know the line-up: the OnBlackheath music festival being held on the Heath on September 13-14 will be headlined by Massive Attack, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, Imelda May, and the Levellers.

Up to 30,000 people are expected to come and enjoy a weekend of music, a Kid’s Stage, a farmer’s market, Street & Fringe Theatre, ‘Walkabout Entertainment’ and a  ‘Food Village’ featuring Gizzi Erskine’s Chefs Club, at the western end of the Heath just south of the A2.

This festival, sponsored by John Lewis and promoted by the legendary Harvey Goldsmith, has had a long and controversial birth: in 2011 the Blackheath Society unsuccessfully challenged the license it had been granted by Lewisham Council in the courts. Originally due to be held in the midst of the Olympics, it has been postponed twice, from 2012 to 2013 and then again to 2014. Greenwich councillors have expressed concern to Lewisham Council (on whose side of the heath OnBlackheath will take place) about potential noise problems and the cumulative impact of OnBlackheath taking place in September, shortly after the Good Hope Festival, which was to be held on the Heath on 2-3 August. Although the Good Hope Festival was granted a license in March, its organisers announced in April that it would be postponed until 2015.Blackheath - new signs 2008

The OnBlackheath Festival had aroused more concern than the Good Hope Festival had. Some local people regret Lewisham’s decision to grant a commercial music festival a license in the first place, although others welcome southeast London’s first major music festival.

There’s a big difference between the commercial OnBlackheath (which is promoted by Harvey Goldsmith and sponsored by the John Lewis Partnership) and the Good Hope festival, which is organised by the Jimmy Mizen Foundation, set up in honour of Jimmy Mizen, a teenager who was tragically murdered in Lee in 2008.

But whether we like it or not OnBlackheath is definitely now going ahead. Following discussions with the organisers the Blackheath Society is now largely happy with the way the event is being planned, and Lewisham has attached a number of new conditions: no more than 15,000 people can attend each day (the organisers orginally wanted 25,000), noise reaching nearby homes can’t be any higher than 70 decibels, everyone must go home by 1030pm, and no alcohol will be served after 930pm. A recent Blackheath Society statement says that the society is now “looking forward to being part of the process taking this event forward, engaging constructively with London Borough of Lewisham on the detailed plans (which we are still awaiting) and addressing local residents’ concerns.” The society adds that they are pleased that there is “a commitment to a full review” after the festival closes.

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One person’s ‘freedom’ is another’s nuisance: what Cator Estate parking tells us

coalition consequences logo

The law of unintended consequences is already taking its toll on Blackheath’s Cator Estate, where a new ban on the clamping of cars on private land may paradoxically make it more costly for people who have parked their cars wrongly, and less easy for local residents to enforce sensible parking restrictions.

The coalition government’s Protection of Freedom Act, which came into law in May 2012, makes it a criminal offence for a private person on private or public land to immobilise a vehicle (e.g. by clamping or obstructing), or to move

IMG00620-20120713-1426 (2)a vehicle, with a view to denying the owner access to it.

The Act also included several sensible changes to the law about fingerprints and DNA profiles taken from persons arrested for or charged with a minor offence, which will now be destroyed following either a decision not to charge, or acquittal.

But the Act’s ban on clamping of cars on private land, which may also seem sensible on the face of it, has also caused a number of problems. It is not just cowboys who clamp cars on private land – sometimes, on non-adopted roads, it is the only way of making sure that parking is  not a free-for-all.

The Cator Estate is a good example: a few yards away from Blackheath station, parking restrictions have been in place for years to prevent  its streets becoming a free car park for rail commuters. As the roads are not adopted, the residents there cannot rely on council controlled parking zones as on other nearby streets. Read more of this post

Community comes together to open a new library in Blackheath Village

age exchnageAt the end of November the new community library at the Age Exchange in Blackheath  Village opened, replacing the former library, run by Lewisham council around the corner on Blackheath Grove, which was closed down in 2011.

I was at the opening, which was well-attended, and it was great to see Age Exchange’s chair Ian Mills, the Mayor of Greenwich David Grant, and Lewisham’s elected Mayor Sir Steve Bullock, jointly declare the transformed Age Exchange  building re-opened.

Funded partly by Lewisham council, the new facility is actually just over the Greenwich side of the borough boundary, which snakes its way through the middle of the Village, and the new library (like the old one) will be a much-used resource by residents on both sides of the border. Read more of this post

Is it back to the 1990s?

Sitting in Blackheath Halls for the recording of BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions two weeks ago, I realised how reminiscent of a recent decade our politics is becoming.

No, not the 1980s (even if Michael Heseltine, Chris Patten, Lord McAlpine and several other 1980s political figures have featured heavily in the news media recently, for a variety of reasons). It is the 1990s that seem to have started replaying.

The John Major Government of 1992-1997, with its limited ambitions, sluggish economic growth, splits over Europe, Hospital closures, by-election disasters, and petty and regressive measures to curb benefit entitlements, seem eerily similar to the current Government’s travails. It is too simplistic to label the current Government Thatcherite – I think Majorite is much more spot-on.

On Any Questions, local Labour party member Jean Bloch (a council candidate in Blackheath Westcombe ward back in 2006) asked one of the best questions of the night – should Government force people to cut their cloth according to their means (a reference to that week’s announcement that benefits may be capped for claimants who have two or more children). Read more of this post

Olympic memories – and hopes for the Paralympics

I must admit that I am not normally a huge sports fan. But the Olympic Games transcend sport (in the same way that Pantomime is more than just theatre, the Proms transcend classical music, and the World Cup transcends football). And for those who have little or no interest in the Games (or in Sport in general) the Games provided all sorts of other fun things to do, and did not disrupt daily life in as bad a way as some had predicted. For those who saw British Horsemen (and women) triumph in the show-jumping in front of the Queen’s House here in Greenwich, or attend an opening ceremony rehearsal at the Olympic Stadium as I did, it was difficult not to be moved, let alone maintain scepticism or disinterest.

Quite apart from Team GB’s Sporting triumphs (which are all worthy of congratulation but I will not recount here), two local Olympic connections can fill Blackheath and Westcombe Park with pride. Read more of this post

Blackheath Station – more carriages in the morning, and a lift at last

One issue that has been raised from time to time on the door step with David, Pat and I is the recent changes to the train timetable at Blackheath. While the number of off-peak trains to and from Blackheath has gone up, there has been a slight reduction in the number of trains from Blackheath to London between 8am and 9am and this caused some more crowding on services after the change was made in December 2009.

Nick Raynsford and I met with Southeastern in late March, and they announced that the most crowded train – the 8.48 from Blackheath to Charing Cross – will be made ten cars rather than eight cars long with effect from May 22nd. Southeastern also say that the long-awaited lift at Blackheath station will finally be installed in the summer of this year.

There are no timetable changes proposed, but apparently the crowding problems have eased- possibly because those who live elsewhere have stopped driving to Blackheath to catch trains. There has always been a problem with stations in Zone 3, such as Blackheath, being used by commuters from Kent driving up here and parking on local roads and caching a train to avoid higher fares by commuting by train all the way from Kent or wherever. Certainly the number of complaints about overcrowding I have received have gone down in recent months – and on my own commute via Blackheath station I have managed to get a seat or at least stand comfortably.

We will be watching closely what the effects are of the latest proposed change, and if necessary push for more substantial changes in the next timetable change in December 2010.

The timetable change was very good news for Maze Hill and Westcombe Park stations, but more mixed news for Blackheath. Southeastern have shown themselves to be more responsive than the old train operator Connex, which was widely derided as useless, so I hope that the service will be maintained and improved. I remember in the 1980s that Westcombe Park station only had two trains an hour in each direction in the daytime – it now has six – so we need to make sure that the levels of service we now take for granted are not cut.