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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

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?