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Commons and open spaces in London and across the country are under increased threat from commercial exploitation following a public inquiry decision  allowing a massive music festival event.
The Open Spaces Society deplores the decision by an inspector, appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to permit the controversial Festival Republic event next year on Clapham Common.
The Society joined local groups and many hundreds of residents in opposing the application by Lambeth Council, objecting to the damage caused, the loss of public access, noise and anti-social behaviour.
The three-week public inquiry will have been watched closely by other local authorities keen to generate income from open spaces which in law they hold in trust on behalf of the public. Lambeth and other councils will see it as giving a green light to further destructive development.
The so-called ‘events area’ on Clapham Common has suffered severe degradation over the years from large festival events, with the ground being severely churned up and compacted by vehicles, tens of thousands of festival goers, and large structures.
The area is to be closed off to the public during the event, as well as during the build and derig periods— a total of 19 days at the height of the summer holiday season. Worse still, past experience shows that a large area of the common has to be cordoned off for many months in attempts, often futile, to allow the ground to recover.
Despite clear evidence before the inquiry of previous extended closures, the inspector, Rory Cridland, judged that that ‘any additional restrictions are likely to be of short duration’.
He accepted that ‘some adverse impacts’ would be caused but declared ‘I do not consider they would be significant or long-lasting’, judging that the events ‘would provide cultural and social engagement opportunities for different public audiences’.
The inspector chose to disregard evidence before him that Lambeth was acting unlawfully by using the vast majority of income generated from events to fund its general activities.
Hugh Craddock, one of the society’s case officers, comments: ‘There is a long tradition of urban commons hosting events, such as the circus or travelling fair. But the Festival Republic is of a scale, duration, character, and impact which is wholly inappropriate to common land. And it is the largest-impact among a slew of events which take place on the common each year. Yet the inspector failed to take into account the cumulative effect in restricting the public’s access to and use of the common. He also declined to consider the noise and disruption arising from the event, which he said was a matter for the council as licensing and planning authority — even though these are the most serious consequences for users of the common seeking quiet recreation.’
Our local correspondent for Lambeth and Wandsworth, Jeremy Clyne, said: ‘Local residents and users of Clapham Common will be bitterly disappointed by this decision, after huge efforts to oppose the application. It raises questions over the ownership of our commons and open spaces by local authorities anxious to abuse them for financial gain.
‘The council is using powers under 56-year-old legislation allowing concerts and entertainments in parks and open spaces. I doubt that those who drafted this law had in mind the kind of massive commercial events now being held. It is time for this law and its application to be reviewed.’
 The public inquiry was held in June 2023 into the application by Lambeth Council for temporary work on Clapham Common. The application was made by the council under article 12 of the Greater London Parks and Open Spaces Order 1967. The decision by Rory Cridland of the Planning Inspectorate was published on 5 October 2023 (ref COM/3312935: available via www.gov.uk/guidance/common-land-notices-and-decisions-published-in-2023#section).