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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 January 2008, 07:31 GMT
Green gathering faces financial ruin
By Dickon Hooper
BBC News

At a time when going green is de rigueur, it seems incredible that one of the largest eco-festivals in England is facing a cash crisis - and possible closure.

Horse-drawn transport at the 2006 BGG
The Gathering now faces bankruptcy

The Big Green Gathering, held in Somerset for the last 14 years, blames the 2003 Licensing Act.

Introduced three years ago to headlines about 24-hour binge drinking, the act was the biggest shake-up of licensing laws in 50 years.

It put public safety, child protection and the prevention of crime and disorder at the heart of the licensing process, giving councils a quasi-judicial role in deciding applications.

But the Gathering's organisers said the act forced them to significantly ramp up their security in 2007, taking up a huge tranche of their 750,000 budget.

"Our security personnel costs went up by nearly 100% and our fencing costs by 30,000, said organiser Brig Oubridge.

"It is an educational event and you can't load costs on that scale - especially when we set ticket prices beforehand.

"They wrote an act for pubs and clubs and applied it to everything else. For festivals it has been bad news."

People are getting more vigilant about security and were tightening up anyway
Michael Eavis

The government defended the legislation, arguing that public safety was paramount.

And Mendip District Council, which authorised the Gathering and insisted on the extra security, agreed.

Charles Uzzell, director of planning and environment, said: "In 2006, the gathering was subject to a high number of fence jumpers going over other people's land, heightening the fear of crime.

"I understand they have financial difficulties but this is not the fault of the act or the bodies involved."

Other events hit

He said the council authorises about 10 festivals a year, and that the Gathering is the only one in financial difficulty.

But other events in the West Country have also fallen foul of the new law.

The now-defunct Ashton Court Festival, in Bristol, suffered additional processing costs and extra security requirements.

And St Pauls Carnival, also in Bristol, had to delay its usual summer slot after complications arose with its licence.

Not everyone in the festival community is averse, however.

Brig Oubridge
Mr Oubridge wants a new law to regulate festivals

Michael Eavis, Glastonbury Festival organiser, said of the new act: "It is a lot easier for us. We've got a four year licence which simplifies the whole process. It is a cost saver.

"There is always the issue of security costs. Our fence costs 1m a year - and that was before the act. People are getting more vigilant about security and were tightening up anyway."

Other festival organisers contacted by the BBC pointed to a sea change in British culture towards people becoming more risk averse.

Poppy Stephenson, an organiser of Ashton Court Festival's replacement, said: "Increased costs are about increased safety. You have to spend more just in case and therefore there is less to spend on entertainment, and the cost has to be passed on.

"The public expectations around safety have driven the change in the law - which is a good thing. But it does cost - free festivals are a thing of the past."

For Penny, and many others, there is nothing lost in the drive towards a more professional, risk-assessing way of organising big events.

The problem is, on the way there, a festival like the Big Green Gathering may go under - and not come back.



SEE ALSO
Donation helps to save festival
29 Nov 07 |  Somerset
Festival company to be liquidated
20 Jul 07 |  Bristol/Somerset

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