A food festival in an iconic city centre park which could host thousands has been given the go-ahead - despite neighbours’ fears of “commercialisation” of the public space.
Canterbury’s Cooking - the successor to previous food festivals in Dane John Gardens and under new management - is set to be a “family-focused” event, according to the organiser.
It will run from September 22-24, hosting top chefs, entertainment, music and evening stand-up comedy sets in Canterbury.
However, some residents opposed the inclusion of the night-time comedy, and worry that frequent events are “turning Dane John park into no longer a public park but a commercial site”.
Paul Kennedy, of the Market Square Group and Zoom Events, who are organising the festival, attended a meeting of Canterbury City Council’s (CCC) licensing committee on August 23 to make his case.
“The event is very much family-focused, that’s all ages,” he said.
“We are very sensitive to our locations and we choose them very carefully, we like a nice backdrop and if you look at most of our events that is the case: Royal Military Canal, Deal Castle, Rochester Castle.”
Mr Kennedy also stressed that in April they hosted a food festival in Rochester Castle gardens in Medway, which also has residences nearby like Dane John, and that there were no complaints.
“We’re not coming to this with a blasé manner whatsoever, we look at events only if they hold potential for a long-term commitment from ourselves and we see them as viable.”
The licence being applied for would have allowed two events in the park, not just the food festival, but Mr Kennedy told members: “To be clear, I don’t have a second event to offer.”
He explained how the licence would give them flexibility in case CCC wanted to invite them to host another event.
“If the weather’s with us on the Saturday in Dane John Gardens we could get up to 4,000 people at any one time; that’s my estimate,” Mr Kennedy added.
“Over the weekend I would say we could get as many as 10,000 people.”
However, some who live in the city centre site were not enthused by the plans.
Resident and academic Glen Bowman told the committee he fears the “general commercialisation” of Dane John Gardens.
“We’re very happy with the food and drink generally. When it was being run in the past it had very strong representation from lots of local producers,” he continued.
“I’m worried that this is a commercial event. I would like to see lots of representation of local producers.
“I think what’s happening with licensing is licensed groups coming in - quite a few of them - and turning Dane John park into no longer a public park but a commercial site, and I’m very unhappy about that.”
Mr Kennedy stressed in response that many of the 65 to 70 expected stalls will be by local food businesses, and that they will “make sure local and regional content is strong”.
Dane John resident of 19 years Virginia Fitch also attended, telling members: “I’ve been forced to object to this food and drink festival, which actually I fully support, because the evening comedy event has been combined with it.
“We’re aware the comedy event may be lowkey and hopefully not too intrusive for residents, however, the precedent of having events finishing between 9 and 10 o’clock is concerning if this should translate to the noisier music festivals.”
The licensing committee granted permission for the festival to go ahead, but reduced operating hours to 6.30pm rather than the requested 8pm, and cutting off alcohol sales at 6pm.
The organisers were originally going to apply for a Temporary Events Notice (TEN) for the comedy evening, which was set to finish at 9pm, to allow for the extra hour.
However, with the opening hours reduced, they will have to apply for a TEN covering any activities after 6pm.