Thursday, July 30, 2009

Who has cancelled the Big Green Gathering (BGG)?

BIG GREEN GATHERING RESPONSE TO MENDIP COUNCIL (MC)

BGG responses are in bold

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 Big Green Gathering surrendered the Licence to an Officer of Mendip
Council on Sunday 26th July at 12.00 p.m. on the advice of our Barrister
as we believed we could not meet the condition on the injunction to ensure
that the road closure order was in place. Our legal advice was that the
other conditions were or could be met. 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 injunction. 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, nor was any objection made by the Fire
Authority at the previous Licence Hearing. They made the objection on
Thursday 23rd July at a multi-agency meeting held at the premises where
the BGG was to be held 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 almost 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 six 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.

Stuart Security Services were originally contracted to provide perimeter
services at the BGG. They wanted their whole fee of over £70,000 paid
before the event and the BGG thought this was an unreasonable request. We
offered them alternative terms and they rejected them. 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, together with
Green Security who were covering the internal security at the event. Both
Coast to Coast and Green Security were repeatedly called by the Council to
ask whether they had received monies from the Big Green Gathering. The
Big Green Gathering had paid both companies a proportion of their money
for their services and as a consequence has lost a large proportion of
that money.


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.

One of the issues was regarding South West Ambulance whose invoice was to
be paid on 29th July. We have a copy of the agreement stating the payment
terms. The Council was putting pressure on us to pay South West Ambulance
early and we believed it was correct not to cave into this kind of
pressure. If a company caves into a Council on when and how they pay their
fees for services, when would this stop? The fee for South West Ambulance
was just over £9000 including VAT. We had already budgeted for this
fee. We also contracted doctors, The Red Cross, Festival Welfare
Services, Medical Herbalists to ensure that all medical eventualities were
met. There is also a helipad landing area catered for on the BGG site
plan. We also agreed to watch towers over the site and many more
conditions that would appear to be unreasonable for a peaceful event
primarily concerned with giving people information and advice on
sustainable lifestyles.


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. Our lawyer, a QC was pretty sure on the evidence 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 was 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. At the Multi Agency
meeting held on Thursday 23rd July, it was certainly the police that had
most to say. The woman leading the discussions from the Council said very
little and left it to the police to do the talking.

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. One of our Directors and
(overheard by another of our staff, who holds a responsible position in
the team) was told this was a political decision. At the meeting on
Sunday, we were informed by the police that a decision to stop the event
had been made at had been planned for some time and decisions were made
at a higher level.

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 if there were concerns. No
such complaints were made on 30th June and indeed Inspector Sean Williams
stated in an email to one of the directors that he believed we had an
Event Management Plan suitable for the next few years.


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 and utterly mendacious.
BGG had professional health and safety teams on site
BGG had provision for 2 doctors on site
BGG had provision for ambulance provision and Red Cross on site - South
West Ambulance

BGG had provision for Festival Welfare Services on site
BGG had provision for fully qualified medical herbalists on site
BGG had engaged the services of Midland Fire Rescue
BGG had provision for400 stewards on site - Green Stewards Ltd
BGG had provision for external trained security on site - Coast to Coast
Security
BGG had provision for internal trained security on site- Green Security
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
BGG had provision for a professional noise monitoring team in place
Trackway, fencing, watch towers and other infrastructure was taking place
when the Council and the police visited the site on Thursday, 23rd July
for the multi agency meeting on site. Gate crew and site crew were already
operating.
The Council and the police knew all this – it was in the licence granted
on 30th June, to which they had agreed.
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.
Again, it would appear that the Council does not support the ethos of
events such as the BGG, which incidentally brings around £2million to the
local economy. We are saddened by this as it is becoming apparent daily
that individual action on climate change is vital and in order to take
action information is paramount. BGG supplies that information and helps
customers reduce their carbon footprint.


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.

Our Barrister confirmed to us that the only condition he believed that a
judge would accept is that we had failed to meet was the road closure order.

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 and the Council did not want this event to go
ahead. We are still unsure as to why this peaceful event appears to create
an atmosphere of fear in some members of the responsible authorities. The
BGG brings in £2 million to the local economy. Traders, local producers,
local contractors have all lost money. The BGG had already spent over
£200,000 in infrastructure and other costs on the BGG. The BGG had paid
in full for the fencing, half the noise monitoring, in full for the
Trackway, half the police costs, significant amounts to the Security
Companies, toilet providers, site crew wages, portacabins, telephone
lines, hire of the land, licence application, marketing and publicity etc.

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 and the
BGG has a very good record on public safety as the Council very well know.
We think it that lack of a road closure order is disproportionate to the
action taken and the police were very quick to enact road closure orders
in order to shut down the event.

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. For example the
local farmer had organised £000’s of food to be ready for the BGG,
Butcombe Brewery had laid on extra drinks, the local Bread lady had bought
supplies especially, Traders who come had bought in extra stock. Those
that we employ that live in the neighbourhood have now lost out. And the
BGG has lost a fortune in lost revenue. The corporate goals seems to have
gone awry on what was in the most generous terms spurious arguments to
stop the BGG



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 mendacious as both security contractors attended the multi agency
meeting and gave assurances that they would fulfil their contracts. Some
of our contractors have complained of harassment from the Council so much
so that an officer of the BGG telephoned the Council to complain. One
contractor said they were being phoned every ten minutes and the
impression they received was that they should pull out of the BGG

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