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Wireless Festival row: Furious Friends of Finsbury Park hit back at ‘nimby’ accusation

PUBLISHED: 17:26 26 April 2016 | UPDATED: 11:23 27 April 2016

Main stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park in 2015

Main stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park in 2015

© Andrew Whitton 2015

Finsbury Park campaigners have hit back after the director of this year’s Wireless Festival branded them “nimbys” as they launched legal action to get the festival banned.

Wireless Festival in numbers

29% - The amount of space the festival will take up in the park

14 days - The length of time the set-up and clean-up of the festival is estimated to take

£90,000 - Estimated cost of the clean-up operation paid for by Wireless organisers

£155.50 - Price of a full festival pass

Opponents of the event in Islington, Hackney and Haringey claim last year’s festival led to crime, antisocial behaviour and environmental damage with Tottenham MP David Lammy famously comparing the park with the Serengeti. They also complained a large portion of the park was off-limits to locals before, during and after the festival.

The Friends of Finsbury Park group have now raised thousands of pounds through a crowdfunding site to launch a judicial review against Haringey Council, which runs the park. They claim the council ignored relevant legislation to protect the park and failed to carry out a lawful consultation.

But Melvin Benn, the new director of the Wireless Festival, dismissed their concerns at a press conference last week.

“Friends of Finsbury Park are barking up the wrong tree,” he said. “They will not succeed. It’s nimbyism, I’m afraid. They’ve jumped on a bandwagon to try and prevent Haringey Council from doing what the government is insisting every single local authority do: to sweat the assets that they have.”

Tom Palin and Jeremy Llewellyn-Jones of the Friends of Finsbury Park are against Haringey Council allowing the Wireless Festival to go aheadTom Palin and Jeremy Llewellyn-Jones of the Friends of Finsbury Park are against Haringey Council allowing the Wireless Festival to go ahead

He described the court case as a “sham” based on out of date legislation.

Responding to Mr Benn’s comments, Tom Palin, who is chairman of the Friends group and worked as a music producer, said: “It’s not a sham at all – it’s very real. He has been misinformed. There are legislations that protect the park which have been in place for years.”

He added: “We’re not your regular nimbys. We don’t sit in armchairs with a cup of tea and a biscuit moaning about people.”

Jeremy Llewellyn-Jones, a film and TV director who lives in Alexandra Grove, Hackney, said he deliberately left the area during last year’s festival because of the noise and anti-social behaviour.

Melvin Benn, Wireless Festival Director and CEO of Festival RepublicMelvin Benn, Wireless Festival Director and CEO of Festival Republic

“The year before last I had every form of human waste and drug paraphenalia in my front garden. But the big thing is that families can’t get in to the park on a nice summer’s day because most of the park’s usable space is fenced off.”

He added: “I’m astonished that Haringey Council is under orders to sweat their assets. They might as well just put a cover on it and change it into the Cardiff Millenium Stadium.”

He praised neighbouring Clissold Park in Green Lanes which he says unlike Finsbury Park “puts on events that matter to the people living around the park”.

Gill Shepherd, a social scientist and member of Highbury Community Association who lives in Highbury Hill, described the festival as an “outrageous imposition” on residents in the bordering boroughs of Islington and Hackney: “Half of Finsbury Park station is already out of action so if will be difficult for ordinary commuters if they whack on an extra 40,000 people per day.”

Finsbury Park after the Wireless Festival in 2015Finsbury Park after the Wireless Festival in 2015

Tottenham MP David Lammy also weighed in on the debate, telling the Gazette he was “deeply concerned about the environmental damage and significant loss of amenity for local residents”.

“I understand the need to raise revenue for our parks but festivals on this scale cause significant upheaval and local residents rightly feel that the negatives outweigh the benefits.”

Meanwhile, Mr Benn said steps had been taken to improve security at the event following criminal and anti-social behaviour at the festival last year which saw ticketless people storming the security gates around the festival.

“We’ve been working closely with local police and Haringey Council, as well as festival goers, on a full site improvement plan,” he said.

Tom Palin (current Chair of FofP), Cllr. Clive Carter, David Lammy MP, Jeremy Llewellyn Jones (Hackney resident & FoFP member) in Finsbury Park after the Wireless FestivalTom Palin (current Chair of FofP), Cllr. Clive Carter, David Lammy MP, Jeremy Llewellyn Jones (Hackney resident & FoFP member) in Finsbury Park after the Wireless Festival

“Our new security strategy will solve issues from last year’s event, which includes the restructuring and management of key areas, specifically site structure and security.”

This year, he said, he would employ former superintendants to run, operate and manage the security operations as well as increasing security personnel by 25 per cent.

While it would not comment on the legal proceedings, a Haringey Council spokesperson said the festival last year helped pay for £400,000 worth of improvements to the park.

“We are continuing to work with all of our partners to ensure that events go ahead safely and as smoothly as possible and residents see improvements in the way they are delivered,” the council added.

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