Feedback to Event Lambeth on the Open Arms event application

Thank you to everyone who copied your emails about the Open Arms event application to the Friends of Ruskin Park. This consultation on the event application is over and hundreds of people have shared their views in different ways.

There were 219 written responses in total and the vast majority (89%) were opposed to the event application. A further 4% offered their full support to the proposal and 7% offered support subject to changes. A local resident has also started a petition opposing the event which has been signed by 680 people at the time of writing.

This is a big response from a concerned community. We looked at every one and the very important points you made. They informed us in writing a formal response from the Friends of Ruskin Park to Event Lambeth, which you can see below.

Simultaneously, an application has been made by the organisers for an events and alcohol licence, which was open for comments until 29th March 2021.

We do not know what Events Lambeth will do now. We believe our local councillors share our concerns and will be active in the decision-making process. So, watch this space.


Formal Response from the Friends of Ruskin Park to Event Lambeth – 9th March 2021

Introduction

When we first heard about this application, we expressed our concerns about its fit with the characteristics of Ruskin Park. Apart from changing the temporary toilets position into the old depot area, no notice seems to have been taken of what we said.

We assume that final permission for events in Lambeth’s parks would depend on Government Covid-19 rules permitting such gatherings at the time.

Community Engagement

At the start of stage 2A of the application process, you sent to us the application information and how to comment.  We shared this with the public, together with our initial concerns.  We believe most responders have copied their comments to us, and some to their councillors.

On 5th March we analysed the 69 responses we had seen to that date. Most of the responders endorse the initial thoughts of our Committee, which we still stand by.

Summary of Public Responses (at 5th March)

In summary, the overwhelming majority of respondents do not feel that the current Open Arms proposal is a good fit for Ruskin Park.  Less than 15% of respondents supported the proposal in its current form.

The intensity of the weekly programme and length of the season were a key concern.

Respondents were worried that the Open Arms would significantly affect users’ experience in and enjoyment of the park, which is a key local amenity. They value the park as a green space used by locals to find peace, enjoy nature and undertake activities, all of which would be hampered should the Open Arms go ahead as planned.

A successful park depends on a delicate balance amongst acceptable behaviours of the diverse users, and the ecology of the land, flora and fauna. Most people feel that this event proposal will upset that balance.

Respondents expressed concerns about the bandstand area (as a well-used public space) being unavailable for the summer, as well as worries about: noise pollution; litter; the impact on wildlife and the park environment; and anti-social behaviour.

Around 15% of responders were enthusiastic about the proposal for its entertainment value and stated support for the arts.

Highlighted Concerns

We want to draw out further some deeply-felt concerns from those who know the park very well:

  • If alcohol is served in a concentrated time period,  drunken behaviour by some customers is inevitable. In pubs and bars this can be contained by security staff but in a park the size of ours it will be impossible to control. At the end of the evening when the park is supposed to be locked up it will be difficult to remove the public. If alcohol is not served, there are several off-licences near the park and people will bring their own, as they already do, but more so.
  • If Open Arms opens for 95 days with an average attendance of 120 people, an estimated total of 11,500 people will be eating and drinking in the park over the summer, the vast majority of whom would not have been there before.
  • Rubbish and its clearance is a perennial problem for the park. Volunteer litter pickers make a major contribution to managing litter. Though the organisers say they will clear their litter themselves, in Ruskin Park there is no easy access for dustcarts, which will have to drive across the degraded pedestrian paths to get to the site. So will construction traffic and all deliveries. We know that the park cannot cope with increased vehicle traffic and this was a key challenge during Trees for Cities’ tenancy within the park.
  • In the bandstand location, we are particularly concerned for the noise and physical impact on nearby wildlife, including naturalised bulbs in the area just behind the proposed bar, and birds nesting in trees or on the pond.
  • Ruskin Park is surrounded by residential housing and a hospital. Neighbours are already frequently affected by various anti-social behaviours in the park which Lambeth and the police seem unable to address with current resources. Residents worry about this. Amplified music for long periods would impact on many residents and even non-amplified music will travel and be a nuisance to some. Additional pressure on parking around the park is also a worry. NHS patients and staff are important users of the park.
  • Our understanding of the applicant’s business model is that it is based on sales of food and drinks with performances secondary to this.  Presumably therefore they want to draw in customers locally and from afar so we feel that the estimate of average attendance 120 may be understated. While the event is presented as promoting the arts after lockdown with an Arts Council grant, we fear they might not pay musicians and other performers fairly for their time and expertise but rather hoping musicians will work for free or for expenses in the hope of exposure. This should be questioned given Lambeth’s goals for encouraging local employment and the economy.
  • We understand from community feedback relating to other Assembled Gala events that they have not always been managed as expected. We have noted an unwillingness by the applicants to acknowledge our initial concerns, based on our local knowledge.

Alternatives

  • We support appropriately scaled entertainments and refreshments in the park, as do many of the responders.
  • We are surprised the proposal does not mention the events run by the Friends of Ruskin Park since 2006, supported by Lambeth. This suggests a lack of community engagement, or even research by the applicants. FoRP’s events include the summer fete and other seasonal fairs with activities, craft stalls etc., and also a programme of summer band stand concerts. These events have performers who are paid. They are low-impact but draw crowds of 100+ on dry days, again suggesting that the promoters’ estimate of average attendance 120 may be understated. These events are one-off days that are carefully considered to ensure inclusivity across our diverse community. Our successful track record comes from understanding park users and the commitment of local people offering their time to make the park better for all. The proposal appears to try to  extend this model without background knowledge or outreach.
  • We have a joint strategic masterplan with Lambeth and this experience has led us to believe we need a similar process for events, i.e. strategic agreements on what events would work for Ruskin Park, and where, and what could upset the delicate balance and be more suited to another location. This could prevent such a disruptive and damaging polarisation of views, and time and money wasting.