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Lambeth Council is proposing to give itself unprecedented powers to intensify and institutionalise the commercial exploitation of a flagship open space.
By giving blanket approval for music festivals and other events to be held on the 35-hectare half of Clapham Common it owns, Lambeth Council will be driving a coach and horses through legislation, designed to protect commons, which limits the number of days events can be held.
The Council says that in making this application it is a ‘forerunner’. Lambeth’s example is likely to be copied by other local authorities trying to fill holes in their budgets.
The Town and Country Planning Act allows the temporary use of land for up to 28 days in total in any calendar year. The application which Lambeth intends to grant to itself covers a 110-day schedule of events throughout 2017, including events which have already taken place.
In addition, there is in the pipeline for the Lambeth part of the common the 42-day Winterville major event starting in November plus another 64 days of events on the part of Clapham Common owned by neighbouring Wandsworth Council.
The Open Spaces Society has repeatedly complained to Lambeth Council over the abuse of Clapham Common, which has caused severe damage and has reduced public access, and it has objected to the current proposal. The society has also challenged the council over the legality of structures being built on the common without consent.
Major events such as the SW4 music festival have badly degraded the ground, with damage being particularly bad in wet weather when heavy vehicles are used for derigging. Following the SW4 festival in 2015 a large area of the common was turned into a quagmire, with deep ruts in the ground.
The ground never properly recovers, even after so-called restoration work, and the land is closed off to the public not just during the event, set-up and derigging periods but during any ‘recovery’ time.
The enclosures required for some of the major events do not just reduce public access to this important space, many during the summer period, but the impact of the enclosure and activities within it affects the peace and tranquillity of surrounding areas of the common, and beyond, and their enjoyment.
The Council’s application, which it says is necessary for its ‘events strategy’, is due to go before the authority’s own planning committee on Tuesday (4 July). The Council’s planning officers are recommending it for approval.
‘This application appears to be an attempt to drive a coach and horses through the legislation which defends the common,’ commented OSS general secretary Kate Ashbrook. ‘The intention of the Town and Country Planning Act is clear with regard to the protection of open spaces. Lambeth should not be doing this.’
Local OSS correspondent Jeremy Clyne added: ‘The Council boldly proclaims that this application is “unprecedented”. The abuse and exploitation of Clapham Common must stop, it must not be intensified and institutionalised.’