Accusations have been flying over Camden LBC’s decision this week to block the application for a royal wedding street party in Covent Garden by Republic, the organisation that represents the UK’s republican movement.
Billed as the “not the royal wedding” street party, Republic had hoped to host the event on Earlham Street, in Covent Garden, on the Big Day (29 April, in case you’re not aware). But this week Camden LBC said it would not grant a temporary traffic order to close the street, effectively scotching the event altogether, prompting cries of outrage from the organisers and not a little press coverage.
As both a republican (though not member of Republic) and a localist, the row piqued my interest. Republicans have as much right to celebrate the royal wedding, in their own way, as the staunchest supporters of the future king and his bride to be, the republican in me cried, outraged. Yes, but I’m sure the council had valid reasons for rejecting the application, the localist in me replied, reasonably. Who then is in the right?
For their part Camden LBC said it had taken the decision to block the application due to:
1. concerns raised by the police about public safety and possible disorder;
2. the failure of the organisers to provide an event management plan;
3. the lack of “local connection” between Republic and the location where the party was planned; and
4. “local objections” to the planned party.
The council says: “During discussions with the community, significant concerns were raised around the potential for disorder and the impact of the event taking place. Many local businesses were opposed to the event taking place as it would directly contradict the Royal Wedding theme in terms of their merchandise.”
Republic say these claims are “outrageous lies” and accused the Labour run council of discrimination on the grounds of political belief.
“This is a disgraceful attack on the rights of republicans to make their voice heard and to hold a fun and peaceful event. Camden Council is allowing a few vocal residents and businesses to veto any event in central London they do not support,” Republic’s executive officer Graham Smith says.
Ding dong. Fight!
Indeed, but it would seem that so far it has not been a clean one.
Let’s look at Camden’s objections:
1. concerns raised by the police about public safety and possible disorder; and
2. the fact that the organisers did not provide an event management plan
Emails between the council, Republic and Camden Borough Police show that Republic did submit an event management plan, which was accepted by the council and the police.
Indeed the police advised the council that the event management plan “covered all necessary requirements for running an event of the nature proposed by them” and the police had no objections to it going ahead. “At the moment there is no intelligence to suggest that this event will be attended by organised groups intent on disorder,” the police said.
A Camden police spokesman told LGC: ”Whilst police were initially concerned as to the management of this event, there was no intelligence at the time to suggest any disorder. An event management plan was received and upon review, the police were not in a position to object to the application of the road closure. The decision to approve or refuse such applications remained with the council.”
Challenged over this, a council spokesman did concede to LGC that:
A. the organisers did submit an event management plan, which was accepted by the council; and
B. that although the police had “initial concerns” those concerns were allayed by the event management plan and the police raised no objections about the party going ahead.
The council was clearly out of order both of these claims. Dock two points.
What about the other objections - that there was no local connection between the organisers and the location of the party and “local people” had objected to the event?
Republic say they consulted the local businesses in the immediate area where the party was to be held and “none raised objections”. Moreover they say at least one business, the restaurant Thai Square, wanted to be involved and had planned to provide food for the event.
They say this shows local involvement and that, in any case, there are countless precedents of councils allowing events to go ahead in their areas that are put on by organisations that do not have a direct “local connection” to the location.
“We talked to the local businesses, some of them were even republicans and thought it was a great idea,” a spokesman says. “We didn’t have anyone objecting to the party - the objectors were Shaftesbury PLC, who own most of Covent Garden.”
Republic point to an email assurance, received on 4 March from a Camden council officer, which said: “We have had replies from all consultees and these have been positive for your event. I could therefore confirm that as discussed your event can proceed.”
Republic say this shows that event had been approved.
Not exactly. For the email also advised Republic thus: “Please do not accept this as formal consent as we have to comply with a few further steps before my manager will give formal consent.”
A council spokesman says this shows the events had not been approved and that, after local objections to the street party, the council decided not to give the event formal consent.
Republic say the decision was approved at officer level before being scotched further up the council’s management chain. “Senior management moved the goal posts at the last minute and took the decision out of the hands of the officers usually tasked with authorising road closures,” Mr Smith says.
The council concedes the decision was ultimately made at a “higher level” within the council than would be usual, but this was because the organisers had disputed the initial refusal.
In any case, it would seem that the organisers did not get formal consent for the application, as they claimed. One point off Republic.
Finally, then, to the “local objections”.
The council says three objections had been lodged against the event, one from Shaftesbury PLC, the property investment company which owns much of Covent Garden; one from the Covent Garden Community Association, which represents businesses and communities across Covent Garden; and one from a certain Matthew De Giles, of the Rio Beach fashion retailer.
“These groups strongly opposed the event as they felt it would negatively impact on their sales, and they also raised a number of public safety concerns as to how the event would be managed,” a spokesman says.
It is not clear, however, if the organisations directly represent the views of the businesses on Earlham Street, who Republic say they consulted. But asked if they could provide further evidence of local support for the party, Republic could only cite Thai Square and their verbal consultation of local businesses.
So it would seem the council does have evidence of “local objections” to the event - most significantly from heavy weights Shafesbury PLC, who the council says “have an interest” in 120 properties across Covent Garden.
A council spokesman says these “local objections” were the primary reason for refusal the application.
For their part Republic question how “local” the “local objection” from Shaftesbury PLC actually is - but can only cite support from one business and anecdotal support from others.
One point docked from Republic then.
In any case, there could yet be a neat compromise.The council say they have offered Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a green space not far off, to Republic as an alternative to the party (thereby seemingly undermining their objection that Republic don’t have local connections). Not a street party, per se, but a party nonetheless.
Only there’s a catch. To secure a party at this site, the group would have to start from scratch with a new application and possibly a new event management plan - and further consultation of local residents and businesses - and with less than three weeks to the big day, Republic say there is no longer time. They have instead vowed to fight Camden’s decision.
“We chose early on to hold a fun party rather than a protest, now Camden Council is seeking to silence and marginalise us without any legitimate reason. We will do all we can to ensure our event will go ahead and we will be challenging this decision.” Mr Smith says.
Ding dong, round two.