Thursday, July 30, 2009

More on the Big Green and the Blue Meany District Council

This is a document I received from one of the BGG collective. Mendacious District Council are in black, and the BGG comment is in green. It seems to be a different version of their FAQ posted lower down.

Who has cancelled the Big Green Gathering (BGG)?
The organisers of the BGG agreed to cancel it and handed their event licence back to the council.

There were four conditions on the injunction:

The weekend was spent trying to answer the proposed injunction. The injunction itself was founded upon an untrue assertion that BGG had "threatened" to put the event on in breach of its licence conditions. if the licence conditions were not capable of being met, BGG had no intention of continuing with the event - and it was a recognition that that was regrettably the position that caused BGG to surrender its' licence: It was not the threat of an injunction. The BGG were subject to further ‘threats’ on the Sunday morning, one of them being that the landowner would be added to the injuction. We respect the farmer and his family and we would not want any harm to be caused to them.

Why has the event been cancelled?
There were serious concerns about potential public safety and crime and disorder, which the organisers of the BGG seem to have recognised they could not address in time for the event.

the licence was surrendered :

(a) because the Highways authority were being intransigent and utterly unreasonable in not giving permission for the road closure;

(b) the Fire Authority were placing unnecessary hurdles in BGG's way - which were not deemed necessary at the last festival; nor at the time of the granting of the licence and

(c) valuable time was lost, which could have been spent trying to fulfil BGG's licence obligations, but instead was spent mounting an answer to a wholly misconceived application for an injunction.

Why did the council consider applying for an injunction?

The seriousness of the concerns meant that despite days of negotiations the organisers had still not complied with some aspects of their licence and other legal requirements connected to fire safety. This amounted to concerns that public safety could have been seriously undermined should the event take place in such circumstances. Therefore the council had no other option but to consider applying for an injunction, which if successful may have forced the event to shut down.

This is just not true. Midland Fire Services were contracted by Big Green Gathering for the event and they were performing fire service duties at Womad, which meant they could not be at the Multi Agency Meeting. Midland Fire Services were due to appear at the Big Green Gathering on the following Monday before the event and there had been no criticism of the fire plan until Thursday at the Multi Agency Meeting – just six days before the event was due to start.

When was the decision made to progress with an injunction?
During a meeting between the council and emergency services at 6.30pm on Friday (July 24). However, the injunction application was not due to submitted until Monday (July 27) which gave the organisers more opportunity to address their licensing issues.

The timing of the threat of an injunction was deliberately designed to make it almost impossible for BGG to get expert legal advice in the time available and that the decision to pursue an injunction must have been made way before Friday evening 24th July – The actual injunction was received by email at 6.54p.m. the Council were sending the solicitor copies of all the statements, draft order, application at about 7 p.m. therefore no-one could have put that lot together in two minutes.

When was the council first made aware about concerns surrounding the licence?
On July 17 we became aware there were serious issues about the licence including the confirmation that an important security company involved with the event had withdrawn their services.

Another Security Firm, Coast to Coast, was employed and the director of Coast to Coast Security (who have incidentally provided services at the Bath & West Showground) attended the Multi Agency Meeting on 23rd July.

What happened next?
Internal investigations at the council alongside the emergency services flagged up other areas of concern. The organisers of BGG were invited to attend a meeting at the council offices on July 22 to help resolve various issues. Some issues were resolved at that meeting, but a number of issues remained outstanding. The council and emergency services had already arranged to meet with the organisers the following day on-site to ensure the outstanding issues had been resolved.

Who would have granted the injunction?
The council had prepared a case to take to the High Court where a judge would have listened to both sides of the argument and made a decision. There is no guarantee the court would have agreed with the council, but the council felt so strongly about their concerns that it had no other option but prepare for an injunction.

The Council knew that a lack of road closure order would be a breach of the licence. The Judge is not obliged to listen to the BGG – the council were meant to prepare a brief showing both sides of the argument. That is why the BGG had to seek legal advice and the council had named individuals as well as the BGG on the licence therefore we were aware that individuals could be chased for enormous costs if the judge agreed with the Council. Our lawyer was convinced that we could win the arguments bar the road closure

Did the police pressurise the council into threatening an injunction?
No, the council works in partnership with many agencies. This decision was based on advice from emergency services including the police, ambulance, fire etc. Ultimately, as the licensing authority the council weighed up all the factors and risks and made the final decision.

The ambulance service were at the Multi Agency Meeting and did not appear on the injunction therefore there were no concerns about ambulance provision. From our meetings with the police and the council, it was apparent that the police were leading the discussion.

Was the threat of an injunction a political decision?
No, this was purely based on public safety and potential for crime and disorder.

We believe this was a political decision

Why wasn't this issued sorted out sooner?
The council and other agencies have been working closely with BGG since February this year on the licence application, which was finally granted. However, there were a number of requirements that had to be completed before the event. Some of these crucial elements had not been completed.

This could easily have been sorted out sooner and there was ample opportunity to complain at the licence hearing.

Does the council not feel that this is a safe and green festival?
This is not an issue about whether it has been safe and green, but is an issue as to whether the forthcoming event would have been safe based on the fact that certain requirements were not met.

This is a complete red herring.

BGG had provision for 2 doctors on site

BGG had provision for ambulance provision and Red Cross on site

BGG had provision for Festival Welfare Services on site

BGG had provision for fully qualified medical herbalists on site

BGG had provision for400 stewards on site

BGG had provision for external trained security on site

BGG had provision for internal trained security on site

BGG had provision for a helipad area on site

BGG had provision for trained road people on the perimeter and on site

BGG has an exemplary record on health and safety

BGG had provision for a Challenge 21 alcohol policy

BGG had provision for a lost kids and kids area, with a strong child protection policy in place

The Council and the police knew all this – it was in the licence

Does the council not support the ethos of events such as the BGG?
The issue here is not about the ethos or messages this event wants to send out but about ensuring public safety during the event.

See Above

Is the council not victimising this event and those that attend?
Since BGG came to this area a number of years ago it has had significant support from all agencies in planning and running this event. Over the past couple of weeks there has been significant ongoing discussion between organisers, the council and emergency services to try and resolve the licensing issues. The organisers signed up to legal commitments associated with the licence, some of which they failed to meet, and are bound by other legislation.

Did the council not want this event to go ahead from the beginning?
The council strives to ensure that any licence application is considered properly and fairly, but it also works closely with other agencies and organisers to attempt to organise safe and well run events. We realise the potential benefit that large events create for the area and local economy. In short the cancellation of this event creates many more issues and a heavier workload for the council than if it had gone ahead safely.

We believe that the Police did not want this to go ahead. The BGG brings in £2 million to the local economy. Traders, local producers, local contractors have all lost money. The BGG had already spent nearly £200,000 in infrastructure and other costs on the BGG.

Has the council gone health and safety mad?
No. However the council has a duty to protect the public from potential harm, and concerns existed due to certain plans not being in place. We realise that the cancellation of this event will be blamed on the council by some and has had a huge impact, however if we had done nothing and a serious incident had happened the council would have been also been blamed for not acting where concerns existed.
All events however well run do have a significant potential for crime and disorder issues, however part of our role is to minimise this effect through proper licensing. We were not satisfied that this event had addressed some of those issues.

We agree that protecting the public from harm is very important but we think it that lack of a road closure order is disproportionate to the action taken

Did we have an intention of creating financial difficulties for the BGG?
No. The council would never wish to see any financial difficulties affect any local event or businesses as one of our corporate goals is to support the local economy.
The effect is not just on the BGG but many local businesses that rely on income from the BGG in these difficult financial times.
Did the council create problems with the BGG signing up a security firm?
No, we simply needed assurance from the BGG that they had security arrangements in place.

This is [economical with the truth]* as both security contractors attended the multi agency meeting and gave assurances that they would fulfil their contracts.

How much crime and disorder results from the BGG?
This is a policing issue and the BGG spent significant time working with the police on this event.

Very little compared to the number of people on site. There was an increase in tent thefts in 2007 but BGG were providing campsite neighbourhood watch and lockers for peoples valuables

This year's Big Chill, Endorse-It In-Dorset, Stokes Bay Festival and next year's Sunrise 2010 festivals are all offering ticket swaps for those who have bought festival tickets for Big Green Gathering.

*RL amendment

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