Peterborough Willow Festival impasse – organisers blame Council officers

“We’re in the dark, and we believe there are clandestine reasons behind this. We don’t know what they are.”

willow08:25 Thursday 26th May 2016
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: Peterborough City Council are saying the Willow Festival won’t be allowed to take place on the city’s Embankment. The Council says they’ve withdrawn permission to use the land because they haven’t received payment or documents that they need from the organisers. The event’s due to return to the city in July after being cancelled last year for financial reasons. Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of this. The organiser of the Willow Festival Mark Ringer joins us now. So Mark, is it all off this year then?
MARK RINGER: Well not as far as we’re concerned. We’re full steam ahead organising the event. The Council sent a letter to our local newspaper about twenty minutes before deadline last night. Didn’t send the letter to us or inform us they were going to do that, saying that they weren’t going to give us permission to run the Festival on the Embankment, but the reasons they’ve cited are poppycock really. It’s just total rubbish.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. So let’s go through this. The Council say that you haven’t paid the fee for the use of the Embankment. Is that true?
MARK RINGER: We attempted to, but they refused the money. And also ..
DOTTY MCLEOD: And did you attempt to pay it on time before the deadline and all that?
MARK RINGER: Well we were only told about deadlines just as we .. we had around about twenty four hours to pay a sum of money, and at that time of year we’d just paid for all of our infrastructure, deposits and so on . We’re a not for profit making organisation, a completely volunteer organisation. We certainly didn’t have four and a half thousand pounds sat there over twenty four hours to just run down and pay them. So we made an arrangement to pay them in stages, and it looked like we had until 28th May to do that from what they were saying. They gave couple of deadlines, but the second time I went down to pay some money they refused payment. Now the thing is that ..
DOTTY MCLEOD: But you’ve got the money now.
MARK RINGER: We’ve always had the money.
MARK RINGER: We’ve always had the money. It was just a case of like obviously if you can imagine ..
DOTTY MCLEOD: You needed to access it.
MARK RINGER: Yes. (LAUGHS) There has to be some kind of reasonable time that we could just go and sort that out. We’re not short of money to run the event, although we’ve been accused of that. Our financial plan was looked at back in January by the Council, and they were perfectly happy with it at the time. This thing about not having documentation is crazy. All the documentation we require, all the legal requirements that we have to demonstrate are in place. There is absolutely no reason at all why we couldn’t run this event.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Well let me just read out that part of the Council’s statement.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Because they say they have “an absolute responsibility to ensure all events held on their land are run in accordance to health and safety requirements. If we don’t have proof of that, we simply can’t allow them to go ahead“.
MARK RINGER: Yes and they do have proof of that. We have a very highly qualified health and safety officer who’s perfectly happy with the event. Annette Joyce who is commenting on that isn’t qualified in that field. We have the highest qualified health and safety officer in the region looking at what we’re doing, overseeing what we’re doing, and there is no problem at all with health and safety.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So what do you think is going on here? Because you and the Council seem to be at complete cross-purposes on this.
MARK RINGER: Yes we are. And the weird thing is when we first started hearing about this charge that was levied against us we contacted John Holdich via phone, the Leader of the Council, to talk to him, set up a meeting and find out exactly what was going on. But he flatly refused to talk to us, and we don’t know why. And we begged him. We made .. I think we put in sixteen telephone calls to his office and to his home his home number is a matter of public record – and to his mobile number., and he flatly refused to talk to us. And to this day we do not know why. And yet he was saying he was fully in support of the Willow Festival. Well he cannot be, because as I say he simply won’t talk to us. So we’re in the dark, and we believe there are clandestine reasons behind this. We don’t know what they are, certainly not what’s been cited in this letter. There’s nothing in the letter that we believe to be an absolute fact. We think that we’ve done everything and are doing everything in our power to make sure we have a very healthy, a very risk-conscious event etcetera etcetera. So we don’t fully understand. There is only one explanation and that because there is something else in the background that we’re not aware of that’s going on. But of course ..
DOTTY MCLEOD: That means that the Council doesn’t want it to go ahead.
MARK RINGER: For us there’s no question about that. But that’s been the case for two years. But why, we do not know. We have our suspicions, but we do not know why. Annette Joyce who obviously is leading this, we’re calling today for her resignation. We would like to see her gone. We think she’s completely detrimental to the city. It’s not only ourselves that have had problems with her.
MARK RINGER: We just don’t think that she’s good for the city.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Mark, thank you very much for coming on this morning. That is obviously Mark Ringer’s view. He’s the organiser of the Peterborough Willow Festival. Says it is going ahead this year. We should say that we do have a bit of a further statement from the Council here. They say that “they have offered and tried to work with the organisers to ensure that this would be a safe and successful event. In line with the Purple Guide and Council requirements since 28th May 2015 they say that the organisers of the Festival have been unable to comply with repeated deadlines and pay required fees, and therefore it is with regret that we will not be granting permission for the Willow Festival to use the Embankment.” We’ll maybe see if we can try and talk to somebody from Peterborough City Council, particularly see if we can try and talk to John Holdich, who is being accused there by Mark Ringer of refusing to engage, at a later point.