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Friends of Finsbury Park lose court case trying to block Wireless Festival – but say fight is not over

PUBLISHED: 13:50 20 November 2017 | UPDATED: 14:09 20 November 2017

Jaden Smith performing on the Re:Wired Stage at Wireless Festival 2015 in Finsbury Park. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Archive

Jaden Smith performing on the Re:Wired Stage at Wireless Festival 2015 in Finsbury Park. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Archive

PA Archive/PA Images

A campaign group has lost its battle to restrict music events in Finsbury Park – but has promised to appeal yet again by taking the case to the Supreme Court.

A crowd watching Labrinth on the main stage at Wireless Festival 2014 in Finsbury Park. Picture: Yui Mok/PA ArchiveA crowd watching Labrinth on the main stage at Wireless Festival 2014 in Finsbury Park. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Archive

At the Court of Appeal on Thursday, Friends of Finsbury Park failed in its challenge against a judge’s decision last year which allowed Haringey Council to continue hiring out the park for large-scale events.

But Tom Palin, lead campaigner of the Friends group, said it will continue fundraising for another appeal at the Supreme Court, the country’s final court of appeal for civil cases.

The group’s main bone of contention is Wireless Festival, a summer event that has taken place in the park since 2014. It is one of the UK’s most popular festivals. This year, it boasted a line-up including Chance the Rapper, Nas, Skepta and The Weeknd.

The Friends object to it – and other large-scale music shows – because of damage caused by 45,000-a-day footfall and restricted access to a public space.

In dismissing the appeal, Lord Justice Treacy agreed with a 1972 law which gives councils the power to provide entertainment “of any nature” in parks.

Tom Palin, leader of the Friends of Finsbury Park campaign group. Picture: Ken MearsTom Palin, leader of the Friends of Finsbury Park campaign group. Picture: Ken Mears

But the Friends based its appeal on a 1967 law that no more than a tenth of a park can be closed off to the public, and an 1890 law that parks can be closed for no more than 12 days in a year, or six consecutive days. It believes this can stand up if and when the Supreme Court hearing goes ahead.

And despite his disappointment at losing on Thursday, Mr Palin was encouraged by Judge Treacy’s acknowledgment that parks are entrusted with councils for “for use by the public for its recreation”.

“This has opened possibilities,” Mr Palin told the Gazette on Monday. “The council has to make sure each application is legally correct and take into account public use of the park. We stand by our case, but it’s a positive concession.”

For now, Mr Palin also plans to call Haringey into question over profits made from holding events in the park. “We want them to account for everything. Funding has dwindled and it’s sad to see. We believe money made from events should be spent on the fabric of the park.”

Because of the length of time – 14 days – it takes to set up and decommission the Wireless arena, any future decision siding with the Friends would throw the three-day Wireless Festival’s future in Finsbury Park into doubt. Huge one-off shows, like Liam Gallagher’s gig in June next year, would also be under threat.

A rainbow over the main stage at Wireless Festival 2014 in Finsbury Park. Picture: Yui Mok/PA ArchiveA rainbow over the main stage at Wireless Festival 2014 in Finsbury Park. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Archive

It would also apply to every authority in the UK, meaning other big music shows could be stopped. Although the 1967 law about the size of events is not effective outside London, the 1890 ruling that parks cannot be closed for more than 12 days a year applies across Britain.

Mr Palin, who is the son of Monty Python star Michael Palin, continued: “What I have noticed, during the campaign, is the calls from park groups across London. They really understand the importance of this case.”

The appeal has ramifications beyond the park, which is right on the Islington border.

The neighbouring streets were blighted by trouble during this year’s Wireless Festival. Homeowners were terrified at gang brawls and open drug dealing, with one saying Wilberforce Road was “lawless”. However, this was not part of the Friends’ case at the Court of Appeal.

Its campaign had been backed by Labour leader and Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn, who said: “I know and love Finsbury Park, but it needs to be a park for all, all of the time, which means management and restrictions of all events in the times of year that the park is occupied by these events.”

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