Noise crackdown on Exhibition Park music festivals – plunging events like This Is Tomorrow into doubt

Strict new limits have been imposed on any music festivals that will be held in Newcastle’s Exhibition Park, after an outcry from neighbors about last year’s This Is Tomorrow concerts.

More than 90 complaints were lodged about the “horrendous” disturbance caused by the four-day festival last September to neighbors in Jesmond, with city council chiefs admitting that the event “did not go well”. But organizers will now have to comply with a set of stringent rules designed to avoid a repeat of those problems – including heavier restrictions on noise levels.

The move will cast doubt about whether festivals on the scale of This Is Tomorrow will be able to return to Exhibition Park at all and could have a major knock-on effect for the finances of Urban Green Newcastle, the charity which now runs Newcastle’s parks.

Read More: Plea for no repeat of ‘horrendous’ This is Tomorrow as Newcastle park chiefs pray for more festivals

It comes after a lengthy and at times fractious Newcastle City Council hearing last week, at which Urban Green sought to obtain a new license to hold events and sell alcohol at the park. The organisation, which was handed control of the city’s green spaces by the council in 2019, asked for permission for up to 20 events per year with between 500 and 15,000 attendees – with only four of those to be ‘high impact’ occasions with in excess of 5,000 people, lasting no more than three days each.

While the local authority’s licensing sub-committee has agreed to grant a licence, it comes with 40 conditions attached to it – after council safety and regulation chief Ed Foster called for tough limits to be imposed. They include a nine-day per year maximum on events with between 500 and 15,000 people, a stipulation to give six months’ notice of a large event being held, bespoke noise assessments for each event, and a requirement to completely close down events by 10pm when they take place before a weekday.

A rainbow over the This Is Tomorrow music festival last year

Councilors on the committee also backed a crucial restriction on noise from music festivals, limiting it to no more than five decibels above existing background levels at the nearest homes. Urban Green had wanted that limit to be 10 decibels above and its solicitor, Duncan Craig, claimed that the council’s harsher ask would prevent any concerts from being held at all.

The charity’s representatives also argued that large, cash-generating events were essential to paying for the upkeep of the 33 parks it manages and to fund smaller, community-focused activities that “simply won’t take place” otherwise.

At the hearing, Jesmond Labor councilor Felicity Mendelson described the This Is Tomorrow event last year as “horrendous” and said four events a year of that size would “not be acceptable”. Local resident David Allen insisted it was possible to host a large-scale concert without causing major problems – telling the committee that noise levels had been successfully brought down during the festival last September, following the complaints.

The terms of the licence, granted on Friday afternoon, allow for sale of alcohol and provision of activities including live music and film screenings until 10.30pm.

Jon Riley, acting chief executive of Urban Green Newcastle, said: “Whilst this wasn’t the decision we were hoping for, we accept Newcastle City Council’s decision, which reduces the number of licensable events Urban Green Newcastle can deliver in Exhibition Park over a 12 month period. Today’s decision will have an impact on the range of community and cultural events we can present, but we will continue to work with our partners and local communities to deliver a program of diverse, inclusive and exciting events that encourage people to visit and enjoy Exhibition Park .”

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