Police concerns threaten WOMAD festival
The West’s biggest music festival of 2012 was in doubt last night after police chiefs decided to go to court to challenge the legality of its licence.
Senior officers in Wiltshire are unhappy at proposals for policing arrangements from the organisers of this year’s WOMAD festival, and have rejected two attempts by festival organisers to settle the issue.
The police are applying to the licensing authority to challenge the granting of the licence for this year’s festival, which takes place in little over a month’s time at Charlton Park, the country estate of Lord Suffolk, near Malmesbury.
The 28-day consultation period such a challenge requires means that unless the police and WOMAD can reach an agreement before then, an estimated 35,000 festival-goers won’t know until the week before whether the festival will go ahead.
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All the parties involved, and local councillors, said they were confident the issues would be resolved before then but, at present, the impasse has created the biggest threat to the festival since it moved back to the West in 2007.
Back then, the wettest day in living memory came within a whisker of cancelling the first festival staged at Charlton Park, but since then the event, which runs for four days over the last weekend of July, has gone from strength to strength.
Last year saw the biggest crowd ever and the absence of Glastonbury this year means it is the biggest music event in the region in 2012 – with another bumper crowd expected.
The row centres around the levels of policing either side see as necessary – WOMAD organisers claim falling crime rates over the last couple of years should mean a smaller police presence – which the festival has to pay for – while Wiltshire Police say they need to maintain similar levels to last year.
The news that the police had rejected WOMAD’s revised proposals earlier this week and gone straight to the licensing authorities to challenge this year’s event had surprised the festival organisers, who are based in Box, near Bath.
A statement from Wiltshire Police said: “Wiltshire Police have a responsibility to ensure that the public can attend WOMAD with an appropriate policing plan in place to ensure that all can have a safe and enjoyable event.
“WOMAD and Wiltshire Police did not reach an agreement in relation to special policing services for the 2012 WOMAD event by the agreed deadline in June. As a result Wiltshire Police are now challenging the legality of the licence for the event.”
Local councillor Simon Killane said the event was a massive boost to the north Wiltshire economy, and he hoped a resolution could be found.
"WOMAD organisers need to agree to police requirements for this festival and avoid any more damage to the reputation to this fantastic festival,” he added.
A spokesman for the festival said everyone was confident the matter would be sorted before a hearing by licensing councillors in late July.
"WOMAD and the Wiltshire Constabulary will continue to work together to present the county’s finest festival, a festival that has been embraced by the communities of north Wiltshire and brings so much economic benefit to local businesses and people during difficult times,” he said.