Penarth Town Council is abandoning Station Approach as the venue for this year’s “Picnic Penarth” event, and is – instead – planning to hold the event on Penarth Esplanade – where it will coincide with the Volvo Ocean Race.
Picnic Penarth will be held – on a “trial basis” on the Esplanade on the weekend of June 9th and 10th 2018 .
The council says shifting Picnic Penarth to the Esplanade would take advantage of a “prime viewing location” for the yachting event and will “boost local tourism”. [PDN Note: High tide is at 15:44 on June 9th and 16:30 on June 10th].
The Esplanade will be closed to vehicle traffic during the two days of Picnic Penarth (June 9th & 10th) – and will be closed again on Saturday July 7th for the soapbox gravity-racing event the “Downhill Derby” and yet again on the 14th and 15th of July for the “Summer Carnival Weekender”.
“Picnic Penarth” is an event funded by council-taxpayers through the Penarth Precept – a tax which Penarth’s Labour Council has racked-up year-on-year to an all-time high. Last year Picnic Penarth incurred a massive overspend and was roundly criticised for the uncomfortable venue at Station Approach and long queues for food and drink. Most of the public who attended the event came from outside the town.
The council is to budget £5,500 for this year’s Picnic Penarth. [The council overspent its budget on the event by 300% in 2017].
This year the council is proposing to enter into an partnership agreement with local event organisers Genero who would “deliver” the event on a shared basis with the council.
Cllr Mark Wilson (Labour Stanwell) wanted to know what the benefits would be for Genero – and what they would be for Penarth Town Council . He said “We’re giving them some money to manage the event – what about the money that comes in – who gets that money?”
Penarth Council Lead Officer Nicholas McDonald said it was proposed to develop a “memorandum of understanding” with Genero and payments would be covered in that memorandum and would include “shared management of the event and shared ownership” . Genero’s involvement would provide the council with the company’s expertise, marketing, sponsorship and connections and their “local investment in delivering successful events”. Genero, he said, would be looking for a 3 year agreeement in the longer term and would be able to add on “corporate hospitality” to the events .
Cllr Wilson said it would necessary for the Town Council to be careful as to what sponsors it became involved with – and asked whether there would be night-time road closures on the Esplanade during Picnic Penarth. It was confirmed that there would be road closures at night (as well as day-time).
Cllr Angela Thomas (Labour Plymouth Ward) queried the element of “corporate hosting” which had been mentioned. “What sort of thing would that include?” she asked.
Council lead officer Nicholas McDonald said Genero would be looking at having “additional facilities at our events that would be a commercial opportunity for them”. For Picnic Penarth – for example there could be a “tent” set up in Windsor Gardens – or somewhere else – in which Volvo – [the eponymous sponsors of the Volvo Ocean Yacht Race] – could be “hosted” . This, he said, would provide an “added income stream” .
[ Windsor Gardens is the stretch of public parkland which directly overlooks the Esplanade and the sea]
It was not made clear in the meeting whether public access to Windsor Gardens would be restricted whilst this corporate hospitality was being served up, and bottles of Bollinger were being imbibed.
Cllr Angela Thomas – a strong Labour supporter – sought reassurance that the “tent” (presumably a full-scale hospitality and entertainment marquee ) – and its surrounds in Windsor Gardens – “wouldn’t be a VIP area”.
…No such reassurance was forthcoming. Officer McDonald said delphically only that he was confident the council’s prospective partners “understood public sector pressures” .
Cllr Yvonne Murphy (Labour St Augustines) who has a distinguished background in theatre production – and is no pushover in the council chamber – wanted to know if Genero had been already involved in the Christmas Lights Switch On and other Penarth Council events.
Mr McDonald said Genero had provided the technology and the electrical power for the Picnic Event and had provided the power and staging for the Downhill Derby and Summer Festival .Cllr Murphy was told Genero had not been involved in the 2017 Christmas event. Cllr Murphy said she had been concerned about the planning and layout of the 2017 Christmas Lights Switch-On from a Health and Safety viewpoint .
[PDN Note: For several successive years there has been serious overcrowding at the Penarth Christmas Lights Switch On – an event which attracts many families with young children who are often overwhelmed in the crush of the crowd].
Mr McDonald said “Windsor Road is a very very problematic site to hold events in” . Up to now crowd management had been something which had to be managed “in-house” – i.e. within the council with limited resources.
There was then another awkward question from Cllr Murphy. She asked whether there not an obligation to put such contracts out to tender?
The Town Clerk Emma Boylen said Penarth Town Council was “not contracting” Genero and that Genero understood this. She said that otherwise “obviously full financial regulations would apply” .
Cllr Murphy also queried the closeness of the dates of Picnic Penarth and the Summer Festival – “It’s never been that close before” she said .
Nicholas McDonald agreed that previously Picnic Penarth had been “delivered” in April but the council was looking at alternative models. June was the earliest the event could be delivered whilst hoping to hold another one later in the year. It was also advantageous for Penarth Council to have an event on the weekend of the Volvo Ocean races.
Again in reply to Cllr Murphy Mr McDonald confirmed the Penarth Town Council budget for this year’s Picnic Penarth event – or events – was £5,500. Other events would cost “more or less the same” as in 2017.
Cllr Mark Wilson said there needed to be a full “appraisal” after Picnic Penarth. Mr McDonald said an evaluation would be produced – based on this year’s pilot event. Genero would also be asked to record their experiences.
Cllr Wilson said one of the issues would be how many people could be coped with on the Esplanade – a fairly narrow road – and the management strategy of that, the number of stall holders which could be accommodated, along with their queueing systems. Cllr Wilson said that in previous Picnic events the queues had been “far too long“. He had had to queue for 40 minutes on one occasion. There now was not much time to sort such matters out before this year’s event .
Mr McDonald said these matters were already under discussion. The selection of vendors and the number of covers they could cater for per hour also came into the reckoning. He thought that the Esplanade was an “easier site to manage” than the previous sites of Station Approach or Gimber Motors.
But Cllr Murphy hadn’t quite finished. She challenged – head on – the officer’s recommendation that the 2018 Picnic Penarth should be held on the Esplanade. She said the Esplanade could get “quite dangerous” particularly with a stage there. “Could we not” – she asked – “put it up on the Cliff Top” (i.e. the grassy area of Cliff Walk) . “Is the viewing point [for the yacht races] not better on the Cliff Top than on the Esplanade?”
Mr McDonald said that “From a structural point of view that is an extremely exposed site. Wind is an issue there – as well as coastal erosion”. He added that with previous events “footfall” at the Cliff Top had tended to be much lower than on the Esplanade .
The Town Clerk said people would have to “walk up there – so there is a lot of disability issues that we’ve had complaints about. She also noted there is a “marked difference in temperature” between the Cliff Top and the Esplanade.
Cllr Murphy was however not persuaded by these counter arguments. She said “It is much safer and more convivial to have people buying food from stalls in a big open space” She said “You’ve to to put it all up there [ at the Cliff Top] “for the draw to be there”.
Mr McDonald said that the feedback from councillors had been that it was “not desirable” to have events situated up there. – [i.e at the Cliff Top] .
It seems therefore that – once again – Picnic Penarth is to be held at a place in Penarth where there isn’t any grass.