Opinion: Borough Councillors – Just let them entertain us

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Bedford Park Concerts' Proms has been a popular local family event for 25 years. Image: Bedford Park Concerts/Facebook
Bedford Park Concerts' Proms has been a popular local family event for 25 years. Image: Bedford Park Concerts/Facebook

It seems that Bedfordians everywhere were astounded to hear the future of Bedford Park Concerts is at risk, due to an objection by the Borough Council’s Environmental Health Officers.

The organisers have asked to extend their highly-popular concert series from three days to four.

The Environmental Health Officers’ objection: it might be a bit noisy.

Bedford Park Concerts has been putting Bedford on the map for 25 years. They have been steadily growing, attracting better acts, and employing more local people.

This year they’ve booked Olly Murs, as part of his summer tour, Cafe Mambo (due to the success of their debut appearance in 2019), and the Proms will be back for its 25th year.

They haven’t announced Saturday’s headliner yet, but if previous years are anything to go by, thousands will be delighted with whoever they secure to entertain local people.

In the past they’ve brought to Bedford: Tom Jones, Dizzy Rascal, Billy Ocean, UB40, Happy Mondays, Jess Glynne, Todd Terry, Michael Ball, Lesley Garrett, Tom Odell, and many more.

Give businesses a chance to grow

The extension from three days to four not only shows the clout this intrepid group of local people have in securing great acts, it will also help mitigate the loss of income for the business and their employees due to coronavirus.

Tom Jones wowed the crowds in Bedford Park in 2016. Image: Bedford Park Concerts/Facebook

Did our Borough Council get behind this local group of people who do nothing but bring good things to our town? Almost. However, one council department’s computer said “no”.

Neither Bedfordshire Police or Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service have objected, and there have been no objections from the public or other businesses near to Bedford Park.

On Wednesday, (7 Oct) Bedford Borough Council’s licensing sub-committee heard the single objection: “The environmental health service feels that for a fourth day residents need an enhanced level of protection.”

The councillors sitting on this sub-committee are:

  • Cllr Sarah-Jayne Gallagher (Liberal Democrats)
  • Cllr Sue Oliver (Labour)
  • Cllr James Valentine (Labour)

However, rather than making a decision there and then, they decided to hold their tongues, and put the survival of a local business in the limbo, by responding within five working days.

Katherine Painter the council’s team leader for heath, safety and licensing told the sub-committee the council supports music and the concerts in Bedford Park but that they wanted a “precautionary approach” to protect residents.

Fair enough.

However, rather than work with the organisers and create a flexible approach to the legislation, they have recommended restrictions that could destroy the concert series loved by so many.

Instead of allowing different restrictions on different nights, as suggested by the organisers, they’ve requested an unworkable restriction across the whole series.

So, while a fourth day could perhaps have been a little bit quieter, the rest could now also be reduced to noise levels that will destroy any desire for any respected act to play here.

To put it simply, and to quote Simon Taylor, who spoke at the meeting for the concert organisers: “If we were limited to four events at the background noise level plus 15 decibels we could not hold the event.”

A Bedford event by local people for local people

Mark Harrison is the man behind Bedford Park Concerts. He’s not an out-of-town promoter looking to make a quick buck, he’s a local man with a passion for his town.

He puts his heart and soul into the concerts.

Through the concerts he has pumped millions into the local economy over the past 25 years, booking hotels for acts and staff, donating money and time to charities, and employing a team that is mostly made up of local people.

They work with local suppliers for food and drink and they give young musicians a chance to play in front of large outdoor crowds.

Their ticket prices are low, when compared to going into London to see an act, and they fund public services by paying the council for the use of Bedford Park.

With Bedford people employed to organise the event and almost 50% of the audience coming from Bedford, Bedford Park Concerts is very much a Bedford event by local people for local people.

Almost 50% of the Bedford Park Concerts crowd are from Bedford, with 12% from Central Bedfordshire. Image: Bedford Park Concerts/Facebook

Councillors need to recognise when common sense outweighs legislation

While it may seem crazy that this is even being discussed, let’s not be too hard on Environmental Health Officers.

They do have an important job, and the legislation they follow has been designed to protect people.

Their job is difficult, in many ways they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t. But the ultimate decision here lies with the councillors of the sub-committee.

In what should be a perfect process of democracy, Councillors listen to council officers’ recommendations then choose to agree or disagree with that recommendation on behalf of the public.

We hope, Councillors, that you look at the comments on yesterday’s story on our social media channels, and those of other local media, and see the public opinion on this.

You can see our readers’ comment at our Facebook page.

Bedfordians, your constituents, do not want you to put Bedford Park Concerts at risk.

If you must look at how noise can be managed, ask your officers to work with Mark Harrison and his team. Listen to their concerns and collaborate with them so these much-needed concerts go ahead while also respecting Environmental Health Officers’ concerns.

They’ve been bringing something magical to Bedford for 25 years and in recent times have had almost zero complaints about noise.

Cllrs Gallagher, Oliver and Valentine, do you really want this brilliant Bedford benefit to end on your watch?

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