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Pleasure Gardens Site Inadequate Before Bloc
Luke Turner , July 10th, 2012 12:43

We've had a look into venue capacities and the planning process that led to the setting up and funding of the London Pleasure Gardens

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After the debacle of this past weekend's Bloc Festival, which was cancelled due to crowd safety concerns (according to the organisers) or the rain (according to the Metropolitan Police – though nobody we know who was there can recall it raining), attention is focussing on the infrastructure of the London Pleasure Gardens site itself.

A week before Bloc took place, there was a launch event, a free Paradise Gardens Festival that was due to feature all sorts of spectacular events, details here, including an attempt to beat the world hokey cokey record.

This Festival was also to include a performance by musical turns including the Alabama 3, Dreadzone and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble at the site's Big Top tent, described as being 6,000 capacity. Presumably this is the big top tent that was used at Bloc at the weekend, and which seemed to become overwhelmed as soon as larger acts such as Snoop and Doom were due to play. The capacity of this tent is interesting when we look at the number of people accommodated at Bloc. The capacity of the MS Subnitz ship moored on the dock is said to be "around 700 people in total". The Carhaart Dome, according to the clothing manufacturer, holds 2,000 people, though this Newham Council Document suggests the smaller 1600 and the London Pleasure Garden website itself says 1,000. Said document also refers to The Hub venue as holding 3,000 people. The middle sized venue at Bloc was called the Resident Advisor Hub. If these figures are correct, that suggests a maximum venue capacity of around 12,000 out of Bloc's 15,000 ticket holders. Perhaps some 'hanging around outisde the tents' capacity is included, but with all of the venues for Bloc on one half of the enormous site (which London Pleasure Gardens claims holds a 'blank canvas' capacity of 27,000, and much of the green grassy area cordoned off in advance of the Olympics.

That aside, it seems that Bloc was not the first casualty of the London Pleasure Gardens site. Today, a Quietus reader alerted us to the following thread on the Time Out site here, where people who had attended the opening Paradise Gardens Festival complained about excessive dust, trip hazards from pieces of metal embedded in the ground, and a general sense that the reality of the site did not live up to the exotic artist's impressions that were widely distributed (here and here) in the run up to the opening of the London Pleasure Gardens.

The organisers used the Time Out thread to respond. One Garfield Hackett wrote, "Last weekend was the beginning of our mission to regenerate Pontoon Dock and create an outstanding experience for London... The first thing to say is that this is an evolving project, which means two things: one, we've already begun updating the site with new features and infrastructure improvements and two, it means we're listening to your comments and opinions and will be reacting to them constantly over the coming months and year. So thanks for a all the thoughtful responses we've received and we definitely encourage an open, honest dialogue."

It continues with the strong suggestion, from the organisers themselves, that the site was far from complete: "Dust was a key issue. We'll be treating the ground to improve the surface and make the site feel less barren. Whilst the Burning Man aesthetic has it's own style, rest assured we are building a site where you'll feel the 'gardens' element more and more as we develop. We are adding more rubbish bins, clearer signage, water points, baby changing facilities and other practical amenities as a result of audience feed back from our opening event. Apologies to anyone who might have found it difficult, we are improving these facilities ready for our Last Mile Festival, when we look forward to welcoming you to watch the games on screens and enjoy a host of entertainments, beginning on 28th July." Note that date: Garfield was writing on July 5th. Was there any intent to make the site ready for Bloc, the very next day on July 6th?

Just as they did with their announcement in the wake of the Bloc fiasco, London Pleasure Gardens appear to be mistaking 'sorry' as a marketing opportunity for future events. Issues around dust were seen as especially troubling given the the portion of the planning document that deals with toxic substances, including asbestos, left behind from the site's industrial past. Although risk assessments had been carried out, one local resident wrote to London Mayor Boris Johnson expressing his concerns in the run-up to the site opening.

The original planning documents around the London Pleasure Gardens, dealing with risk assessment, communication to and from the site, concerns of local people and so on are all available from the Newham Council Website, and make for interesting reading – and are available here. The original genesis of the London Pleasure Gardens came from the Meanwhile London project, launched in late 2010 to find temporary events that would aid the regeneration of East London - details here.

That report suggests that the London Pleasure Gardens had to struggle to fully finance the site: Deborah Armstrong, one of the Directors, told that report "The council had originally wanted to work with a profit-share agreement [this was in the original competition brief], but that wasn't available to them legally. Instead, the site is now being let to the Pleasure Gardens at a commercial rate. When the lease for the land was delayed, the investors dropped out and we spent almost a year dealing with other interested parties."

Newham Council agreed to make a loan to London Pleasure Gardens to pay for the events to happen: The agenda for the council meeting, on March 1st 2012, can be seen here. "The Mayor, in consultation with Cabinet agreed to the principle of approving a revenue loan facility for a short-term, repayable cash flow investment in the project subject to satisfactory legal and financial due diligence up to a maximum of £3 million".

The terms of the deal sees the Council looking for a return on their not inconsiderable investment, thus: "the Council receives at least the proposed 20% site profits and 5% of profit from use of the brand/concept elsewhere to be explored either through intellectual property rights, profits share, royalties of equity share…"

Details over how the loan will be repaid, and contingencies in case it cannot be, appear to have been kept from press and public notice, under the Local Government Act 1972.

A pertinent question for residents of Newham, and Londoners in general, must be to ask what has happened to this money? Why is the site constructed by London Pleasure Gardens so far from what was promised in the planning documents and promotional literature? Will the promised wonderland develop over the coming weeks?

origenes
Jul 10, 2012 5:17pm

"The Carhaart Dome, according to the clothing manufacturer, holds 2,000 people, though this Newham Council Document suggests the smaller 1600" ... clearly none of them have been inside the 'golf ball' or this capacity numbers have not taken into account any production or equipment being in place.

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Sorl
Jul 10, 2012 8:00pm

They should have given the Pleasure Gardens project to the Block9 guys rather than Shangri-La. Their Glastonbury field and NYC Downlow at Lovebox have production values and a level of professionalism that shits all over the Shangri-La guys, in my opinion. Great article.

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Nathan Hill
Jul 10, 2012 9:44pm

Great article but you may want to update one thing. You refer to The Hub as a venue which holds 3000, unfortunately the Hub currently doesn't exist yet at LPG (a fact that has hastily been updated on LPG's website). Taking this into consideration there was actually only capacity for Bloc (based on your figures) in the music venues for 9000 maximum which I also feel is some what generous. So considering that the stages could accomodate 8000-9000 people I really have no idea where the remaining 7000 ticket holders were meant to go as there really wasn't any open areas one would have wanted to loiter.

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Crossy
Jul 10, 2012 11:03pm

Great article. I went on the opening Saturday and could not believe how bad the site was. Considering it was supposed to be a family friendly festival (that had previously been very successful at Victoria Park) I was amazed to find a stony, dusty windswept area that was badly fenced off, with minimal security or stewards.
No rubbish bins at all, no areas to sit down and men urinating all over the place. There is no way Pontoon Dock DLR station can handle a big crowd and to allow Bloc to go ahead was a big mistake.
There are no gardens and certainly no pleasure to be had there YET.
I say yet because it has the potential to be a really good site but it's nowhere near there at the moment.
All the planted comments in the world (on the Time Out forum) will not change the fact that AT THE MOMENT the venue is neither ready or able to host any event with any success.

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wosley
Jul 11, 2012 9:46am

I come from a background in festival stewarding and a managerial position in a club so may be able to provide some insight into what may have caused what happened to happen.

Councils normally allocate a capacity smaller than the actual capacity of the venue, to ensure every ones health and safety. Even though the 'official' capacity inside the venues came to about 12000, that should have been a comfortable amount of people. And then that leaves a lot of room outside the venue areas too.

It was quite obvious upon entering that the site was barely finished. Everything was strewn around haphazardly and the only information we were offered about the site was in the form of those large boards. There was also a distinct lack of security presence.

I worked at Lovebox last year, when Snoop Dogg played. Throughout the event security maintained a very strong presence. To assist customers and to ensure their safety. At Bloc, even in the queue to enter, their was barely anyone. I also noticed a lack of communication between them. Evident by certain arenas not letting anyone due to fears of crowding, when in fact the arena was empty.

Without a proper team of security to assist people and to ensure that no one broke the rules, people where often left to find their own way around the site and into tents. This caused large groups of people to congregate in areas they were not meant to be, that may have proven dangerous. It also meant that numbers in the arenas weren't accountable because no one could accurate say.

I personally do not think that overcrowding was the fear, it was in the under equipped and under resourced staff. If anyone remembers the RA tent, it was allowed to hold 3000 people. Inside the tent I only saw 1 security, outside 4. That's 5 people to manage and deal with 3000. Legally you're required to have 1 security member per every 100 people. If a stampede or crush broke out they would have proven quite ineffective.

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gareth
Jul 11, 2012 2:23pm

Can somone explain to me how any of that article relates to what went wrong with bloc?

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TC
Jul 11, 2012 3:07pm

The other thing that seems to have been forgotten in the post-event fall-out is that the main stage was scheduled to close at 4am. With the capacity of the RA hub closer to 1,500 that would have left an effective total of less than 5,000 between 4 and 6. What the hell were they thinking?

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Jane
Jul 11, 2012 3:09pm

In reply to gareth:

Gareth.. Basically the gist of it is that the site wasnt ready to host a festival in the first place despite receiving 3million of tax payers money ! The site was responsible for the management of the space .. It was over before it had started !

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Alex
Jul 11, 2012 3:09pm

In reply to origenes:

Carhartt had never made any statements about its capacity. and its "Carhartt" not "Carhaart".

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Ian Gittins
Jul 11, 2012 3:35pm

I went to the Paradise Gardens festival the week before Bloc and it didn't open until two hours after it was scheduled because of "final health and safety checks" which I thought it might possibly have occurred to them to carry out rather earlier. The main bar then didn't open for a further 30 minutes. As other people have said, there were virtually no stewards, no signage, very few bins - it seemed a tad churlish to complain about a free event, but it appeared to have been chucked together by a bunch of utter amateurs.

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alfandindi
Jul 11, 2012 3:41pm

It's also worth bearing in mind the fact that the official hub was not finished and the replacement RA hub only had capacity for 1500 or so... which takes us to 10500... also the main stage was due to close at 4am which means there would only be actual tent capacity for 5500 people from 4am onwards!

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Luke Turner
Jul 11, 2012 4:23pm

In reply to wosley:

Hi Wosley, if you see this can you email luke at the quietus dot com? Could do with picking your brain on the number of security guards required for these things. ta.

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jO
Jul 11, 2012 5:41pm

Great article Luke! Do you know who did the master planning for the space? I have found details of the list of architects involved, but they all young practices, with an art and installation focus, which is not a bad thing. But, I just wonder who actually handled he logistics, because by the looks of it they failed to engage an experienced master planner, hence the bottle necks, lack of basic facilities and the failure to deal with site surfaces and capacity issues. I'm all for pop-up projects and experimental architecture, but you gotta get the master plan sorted first.

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Dave
Jul 11, 2012 7:49pm

The project may of failed but failure should not be frowned upon. In the current economic climate it must of been a monumental task to raise investment and secure the Newham loan for such an ambitious project. It is easy to find blame or failures but we need to encourage risk takers like the Bloc even though it did fail. It should be encouraged to take part again as the interest was there from all involved.

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dc
Jul 11, 2012 9:19pm

if i'm honest could have seen this coming as the organisation behind this are shiesty and famous for it.

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Leon
Jul 12, 2012 12:42pm

It is such a shame that when things don't quite go to plan people just wanna jump in and start kicking those that gave up their time to make LPG happen. Of course the opening weekend had a few hic ups and thing were not quite finished but it was a free event no one had to pay and they will no doubt get it right sometime soon. In regards to Bloc well I have it on very good authority.. and (yes I am in the event business - shock horror!!) that this was in fact nothing to do with LPG.... The site its self had received the all clear from the local authority and the police (Safety Advisory Group) and was good to go..LPG then handed it responsibility over to Bloc for the event .it was in fact Blocs own security on site and not LPG also it was Blocs ticketing company that over sold tickets to the event, and did not inform LPG....and it was only when the police and LPG saw what was happening with the over crowding and the lack of stewardship and security personal that a decision was taken to take control away from Bloc and clear the site in order to ensure that those attending were not in any danger due to health and safety. breaches. So what about LPG well I am not saying that LPG has got it bang on... but lets not go done the mob rule route...and at least be very sure of our facts before knocking those who are trying to create something positive in the area....if it was really that easy everyone would be doing it...Rant over!!

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thetruth
Jul 12, 2012 1:42pm

In reply to Leon:

Leon .. sorry to break it to you but i know the guys from LPG and this monstrous F up is very characteristic of them ! They may be able to turn it around and are working their butts off now ... but they just got too arrogant of course all other parties u mention have some doing it the mess dont forget that LPG got 3million to do this they werent doing it out of kindness on a shoe string.. What I do know is that lpg WERE responsible for running of the site ie: security, stewards, bars, sound equipment. lets see how it unfolds aye !

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Luke Kelly
Jul 12, 2012 5:10pm

It seems that the key factor in the failure of this event was massive overcrowding, with that problem then amplified by an unfinished site, poor event organisation & stewarding, minimal facilities and under-resourced staff. Who was responsible for overselling this event and what happened to the money? Follow that trail and you'll find your master villain.

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jo
Jul 12, 2012 9:10pm

In reply to Leon:

Hello Leon,

You're wrong. Pleasure Gardens and Newham council were VERY responsible for security AND on site staff, as it was part of the deal when they took the site on. Here's the proof.

http://mgov.newham.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=50253

There's much more where that came from too.

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Ali
Jul 13, 2012 9:52am

Looks like the pleasure gardens thought they could get away with not paying anyone like they do at Glastonbury. The architects didnt see a penny of the budget: http://www.bdonline.co.uk/news/architects-blame-riba-for-olympic-fringe-%E2%80%98nightmare%E2%80%99/5039555.article?utm_campaign=UBMTF&utm_source=LSBDallnews&utm_medium=@ayawards

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Kate
Jul 13, 2012 12:57pm

In reply to jo:

Not sure that proves anything - assume that document was part of the local govt case for the LPG (in that there would be a benefit to local residents in terms of employment opportunities). The operator of the site or the event owner would be hiring staff, not the council.

Which doesn't mean that the council isn't to some degree responsible for the debacle and I'd suggest to those who are interested that they request the SAG minutes or licensing documentation from the council under the FOIA.

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Sharmaine
Jul 16, 2012 12:37pm

In reply to Luke Turner:

I think you should do an article about the fact that LPG are now deleting all comments and opinions on their Facebook page! They have deleted over 200 comments from users despite having a massive street art piece symbolising Free Speech onsite #howironic !

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john c
Jul 18, 2012 10:16pm

In reply to Ali:

on a purely selfish level-i've not been paid either and haven't heard any news. anyone else?

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noodles
Jul 22, 2012 1:43pm

Went here yeaterday for the River of Sound Africa day. It is a really interesting site but it is inevitably going to be dusty when dry and waterlogged when wet. And just a point to be made...it isnt a garden and it never will be. So far removed from the Pleasure Gardens of old, it is literally an industrial wasteland.

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Ant
Jul 27, 2012 1:09am

origenes, I've been part of the crew that put that 'golf ball' up before at various festivals, and can personally confirm that it has been signed off at 2000 capacity by council officials at various sites I've worked.

I've seen Hawkwind, Tony Christie, VV Brown, Florence and the Machine, Three Trapped Tigers, Mumford and Sons, and many others in that dome. And I've done monitor mixing for a few of them in there.

Trust me, I know that dome, I've put it up and worked in it. Every event I've been at has always rated it at 2000 capacity. I even helped with the carpentry to build the bars to cater for that number of people at a couple of the gigs I worked while I had time before I got on the mixing desk.

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Ant
Jul 27, 2012 1:26am

jO?

I know the masterminds of the event, and unfortunately a very good friend of mine, who I used to work for and sometimes works for me now, is the designated site manager and had to deal with all of the fallout, the poor bloke's been under a lot of strain because it's just not his fault for being underfunded and managing a troubled site.

I'll actually be going back to work for him in between my forthcoming festival work, to nip in doing some FOH or monitor sound where needed, construction or carpentry, or just help out in the office counting cash if he needs it. He's that desperate for help that I'll go out of my way for him, he's had a bunch of shit chucked at him and he's coping admirably, no matter how much people slag him off. Must repeat, the poor mate of mine who's been tasked with site managing has had a heap of turd chucked at him and it's NOT HIS FAULT.

Won't reveal his name, but will reveal that as far as I'm aware, Garfield Hackett is the guy who's cocked this up. Don't mind saying his name, never liked the guy much anyway.

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