Haringey’s new-look “Corbyn council” is squaring up this week to an unlikely adversary – Jeremy Corbyn himself. The battleground is the authority’s licensing committee, where a marathon two-day review session is in progress, rehearsing long-running arguments over the holding major music concerts in Finsbury Park.
The challenge to an indefinite licence granted in 2013 to entertainment promoter Live Nation has been mounted by the Friends of Finsbury Park, a user-group which has consistently opposed the council’s policy sanctioning large events including the annual three-day urban music festival Wireless, which has attracted crowds of 45,000 people to see acts including Drake and Stormzy.
The Friends group argues the Wireless event has “caused very serious disturbance amounting to a public nuisance”, and given rise to “crime and disorder” – and its stance is backed by the group’s patron Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, whose Islington North constituency abuts the park.
In an exchange of letters, Corbyn has told Haringey leader Joseph Ejiofor: “We need a discussion around what events and how long these take place in the park…I am not advocating for a ban on events, however, Finsbury Park is a public space that many residents feel they have lost access to and rightly believe are paying a heavy price for the operators to make a commercial profit.”
But Ejiofor has responded with a strong defence of the policy, which was introduced by the previous Haringey administration. Live events “provide an important part of our culture offer whilst generating essential income that helps with the maintenance and improvement of Finsbury Park,” he says, pointing out that the total area of the park fenced off for Wireless amounts to 27 per cent of the park area, with the remainder open to the public at all times, while events in total raise some £1.2 million towards maintaining and improving the park. “We currently have no plans to review the Outdoor Events Policy,” he says.
The licence review is the latest salvo in a battle which has already seen the Friends group defeated in the High Court and at appeal on the strength of arguments that the council did not have the legal power to rent out the park for large events – an action which, if successful, could have affected local authorities across the country using commercial income to offset significant cuts in parks budgets.
“We want Haringey’s Licensing Committee to revoke the Premises Licence so that Wireless Festival can no longer take place in Finsbury Park,” the group states on its website. “The application is very important, not just for the protection of Finsbury Park itself but as a beacon of hope for other residents suffering from over-commercialisation of their local parks. The Friends are taking on the Goliath of the music industry and the vested interests of a local authority to reclaim their park for its proper purpose.”
Hackney Council has made its own representation supporting the review, but the Metropolitan Police have not intervened, stating that “no concerns at this time”. Following discussions with the licence holders, Islington Council has now withdrawn its own representations, citing agreement on new conditions “that we believe will directly address issues for Islington residents around noise, anti-social behaviour, crime, traffic and parking, security provision and access”.
The first meeting of Haringey’s licensing committee conducting the review began at 7:00 on Monday evening. Details here and webcast here.