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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Thomas Tallis School opens up its sports halls

IMG00219-20111102-1044Thomas Tallis School, which was completely rebuilt two years ago with state-of-the-art sports facilities, is now offering more public access to them, both for individuals as well as sports clubs.

The sports halls at Tallis have been used by clubs- including the Metro Judo Club which used to meet at Mycenae House, and which Olympic medal-winner Gemma Gibbons used to be a member of – ever since the school’s new building opened in November 2011. The new school and its sports facilities are an important part of the borough’s Olympic legacy.

But the Halls’ availability for use by individuals, rather than clubs, had not been well publicised. Local residents, including Labour candidates Cherry Parker and Simon Thomson (who both live on Kidbrooke Park Road near the school) have lobbied Greenwich Leisure Limited (which is contracted to run the sports hall under its new brand name, Better) to ask them to publicise its availability better. 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

David Gardner’s campaign week

What a weekend of intense campaigning all around Blackheath Westcombe from Blackheath Village in the south down to Maze Hill station in the north.

My eldest daughter came out with the team on Saturday morning (actually we had three teams out that morning) enjoying the sun and meeting people in Vanbrugh Park and Ulundi Road. Many good conversations and one woman who only spoke French, no English. So my daughter put her best A-level French to use only to find that the lady was a visitor and it was her daughter who was the voter – and she was out. On Saturday evening, we all went to the excellent Westcombe society hustings at Mycenae House to set out our stall and face questions from the good citizens of Westcombe Park. Very positive feedback from people and trust we answered all the points fully. Very pleasant Liberal Democrat candidates at the hustings, but no evidence of them around the roads and avenues of the ward whatsoever. The Conservatives went on a bit about controlling immigration and fatherless families which I think almost stigmatised those migrants fleeing persecution or who have come here to make a great contribution to our health service as doctors and nurses etc. or care workers or indeed many as teachers let alone the many single mothers who have been abandoned by their partner or, worse, abused by them. I do think that while I am married with children, it is extremely important not to sit in moral judgement about the way other people live their lives and their family circumstances and certainly not to build our tax system to favour one type of family over another as the Tories propose.

On immigration, obviously we need some fair controls and people should not be in the UK illegally but at the same time we must recognise that Blackheath Westcombe comprises people from all corners of the world – from Australia to Zimbabwe and most in-between. Many have key roles that provide London with its global position as the leading world city and some have roles that keep vital services going – all make an economic contribution that benefits everyone. I think this richness is part of our character in Blackheath and Westcombe Park and in the wider Borough. One house can be a well-to-do Dutch banker and next door there might be a couple of Indian students in a basement flat with a Polish care worker above and a Scottish family on the upper two floors. What is essential – and here the Westcombe and Blackheath society and our countless more local resident groups – play a huge role is that we all pull together to help each other out regardless of our nationality or colour.

On Sunday after my run, we managed a coffee morning in The Keep (some new volunteers to help) followed by some Open Gardens, then afternoon tea and a walkabout of the Vanbrugh Park estate in Combe Avenue. Looking over from the raised Combe mews terrace over the Heath on such a sunny afternoon reminded me just how tranquil the area was. Some good ideas on how the are underneath where there were once garages could be better used for local residents and how the estate needs some adapting to modern recycling needs. Then back home to welcome back my middle daughter who had spent the week on an immersion French course before her GCSE. Luckily, she was not flying but being driven down by parents of her friend.

And just to tail things off nicely, when at maze hill station this morning, a woman approached me said she had seen my photograph what a great job we were doing and well done getting the Olympics to the Park! Which after having been on the receiving end of so many understandable concerns (and quite a few myths about the Olympics) was very refreshing.

David L Gardner

Greenwich Park Olympic Events

You read it here last, as this story has been “blogged to death”, but Greenwich Council’s Planning Board voted to approve the planning application for the Olympic events in the park in 2012 on Tuesday March 23rd, by 10 votes to 2.

I normally chair these planning board meetings but was not there on this occasion as I work part-time for the local MP Nick Raynsford, who had expressed firm views on the application, and did not want to create any impression on bias. That said, I have kept an open mind and have been listening carefully to a wide range of views, from vigorous support to outright opposition, for the last two years since Greenwich was chosen as the likely venue for the equestrian events.

What is most interesting is that at the meeting, I am told, there were almost equal numbers of speakers both for and against the events. The council has also imposed strict conditions, such as a full “reinstatement plan” for the park and Circus Field to be finalised before any work can start, and a consultative forum to be set up so local people can be fully involved.

It is crucial in my view that this is not just a talking shop – and that the opportunity is seized to make sure that arrival of the Olympic events can be used as a spur to move coach parking off Duke Humphrey Road and turn it into a grassy area welcoming people from the Park to the Heath, not a sea of tarmac.

This is one bit of legacy that is firmly within our grasp, and which has wide support from the Blackheath society, Westcombe Society, and other groups and individuals who may have had strong reservations about the Olympic events in general, but are now willing to work to make the events work to bring long-term benefits for Greenwich – and Blackheath.