A public response to residents

Response from Councillor Janet Goodwin, Cabinet Member for City Centre Management, Culture and Tourism, to questions and comments about the decision not to allow the Embankment to be used for the Willow Festival 2016: 

The events team in Peterborough City Council has been responsible, for many years, for a number of successful events which include the following:

  • Great Eastern Run, which is regarded as a premier gold standard running event in the country.
  • Community Festivals, such as Diwali.
  • Tour Series which is a national and televised bike race in the city centre.
  • Olly Murs concert, working with a national promoter.
  • Bryan Adams concert, on 5th August 2016 working with a national promoter.
  • Olympic Torch event working with Lord Coe and Government.
  • Numerous festival events working with Vivacity.
  • Beer Festival in a facilitation role.

For each of these events the relationship between the organisers, participants and the council team have been constructive, trusting and respectful which has been a major factor in the success of these events. This success can also be attributed to the organisers submitting competent and detailed event plans and health and safety plans in a timely fashion. This has enabled the council team, police and other relevant authorities to scrutinise and approve those plans in plenty of time for the event to take place.

The council supports the overall concept of a musical festival in the format of a Willow Festival. The council championed its return in 2012 and financially supported it to the tune of £100,000 for the years 2012/2013. Having said this, the experience of working with the organiser, Mark Ringer, has been in stark contrast to the events set out above. I have found, in my review of this decision, the following difficulties which have been experienced not only by this council, but by the police in dealing with Mr Ringer. They are as follows:-

  • In 2012, it was discovered, an hour before the event was due to open that, the security cover was inadequate. The police objected to the opening of the event with this inadequate coverage. The council immediately stepped in and arranged for more security cover at the council’s expense to ensure the event opened safely.
  • In 2012, Mr Ringer failed to employ a competent noise consultant which was his responsibility (he actually employed a DJ with no experience or qualifications in this field) so the council, at its own expense, stepped in at the last minute and employed a noise consultant to ensure the event could open on time.
  • In 2013 on the day before the event was due to open, the police threatened to demand a review of the licence due to insufficient security cover for the event which was in conflict with the numbers promised in the plan submitted by Mr Ringer to the Safety Advisory Group who oversee the safety of the event. At this point Mr Ringer irresponsibly walked off site and said he had cancelled the event, leaving the businesses and concessions uncertain about their position. The Chief Executive, Annette Joyce, Mr Ringer and Mr Ringer’s business partner met the next day, as a matter of urgency, and the council agreed to pay £10,000 to employ extra security cover.
  • In 2014, on the Sunday there was an issue with the safety of one of the stages. The Chief Executive and Annette Joyce were called by the police to the site because Mr Ringer’s safety officer could not be found and Mr Ringer declined to give the police the safety officer’s telephone number. The Chief Executive and Annette Joyce refused to leave the site until a proper evaluation of the structural integrity of the stage was completed by the stage crew and the stage was therefore deemed to be safe.
  • Later on the same Sunday in 2014, the police called the Chief Executive and Annette Joyce back to the site. In addition the Silver Police Commander from Bedfordshire Police also attended the site as the security team were threatening to leave the event as they had not been paid. A decision was required as to whether to close the event. After some negotiation it is understood that a partial payment was made to the security firm and the security cover continued.
  • In 2015 the Leader of the Council asked two leading opposition councillors to work with Mr Ringer to enable the event to take place in the summer of that year. After attempting to work with Mr Ringer and agreeing deadlines for paperwork and plans to be submitted, he failed to achieve this and also failed to attract the necessary funding for the event. The knock on effect for the council was that, at very short notice, an alternative venue for the Skills Fair, which runs alongside the Willow Festival, had to be found.
  • In 2016, the events team was approached to run the event again and I attach a letter from Annette Joyce dated 26 May which sets out the basis for the council’s decision not to proceed to allow use of the Embankment. I have read this letter and checked the facts contained therein and confirm that they are correct.

Letter from Annette Joyce on 26 May 2016

Size: 438.73 KB File format: pdf

In addition to the above I have noted that the events team, in order to facilitate the Willow Festival, has applied only minimum safety and other requirements to the running of the event whereas other organisers often exceed those minimum requirements. As can be seen from the above, Mr Ringer has failed to maintain even these minimum requirements.

Having reviewed the above, including reading many of the emails sent by Mr Ringer, I have concluded that the decision not to allow use of the Embankment is wholly justified. Aside from the safety concerns and the considerable efforts made by the council to secure this event with a considerable financial contribution, Mr Ringer’s abusive behaviour has not created the kind of trusting and respectful relationship that make events such as these a success as well as safe for families and children to attend. Further the decisions made by the council were also designed to protect Mr Ringer and his potential liabilities.

I would conclude by saying that those who are questioning the council should better address their questions to Mr Ringer and no doubt with the facts in their possession they will now do so.

Previous response on 27 May 2016:

In order to hire the Embankment to host this festival the council requested Health & Safety and Financial Information from the organisers by stipulated dates so we could be sure the event would be hosted both safely and financially successfully. This was done to protect those attending and protect those who may decide to do business with the Festival's organising company.

Despite repeated requests and extended deadlines this information has not been provided to a suitable standard.

The council also set a deadline for receipt of a discounted hire fee required in order to hire the land. This discounted hire fee was not paid by the deadline set or in fact extended deadlines.

This festival is not taking place on The Embankment because the organisers have failed to provide information requested, that meet our conditions of hire, and pay the hire fee in full.

The council cannot answer any questions on behalf of the organisers as to why they have decided not to do this and residents will need to readdress these enquiries to the Festival organiser(s) at info@willowfestival.org.uk and ask why they didn't pay the hire fee or provide information by requested dates.

It's a great shame this event isn't happening but this is solely in the hands of the organisers.

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