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From Tom Jones at the Hop Farm, to Little Mix in Detling, is there any way to escape big queues after a Kent open air show?


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Nothing is certain in life, it is said, but death and taxes. But it's also fair to add to that list 'soul-destroying, lengthy traffic jams trying to exit any outdoor music concert in Kent'.

This weekend saw fans of Olly Murs and Tom Jones face an evening's live music ending with several hours of being stuck in a field in non-moving traffic as they tried to get out of the car park at Paddock Wood's The Hop Farm.

And it is not an experience unfamiliar to those attending Kent's big open-air events over the years.

In July 2018, some 30,000 fans attended a Little Mix concert at Detling's Kent Showground. But as the music stopped, fans found themselves then stuck in queues for up to three hours to get out.

The same can also be said of big events at the likes of Leeds Castle.

It can often be the same in reaching an event too.

Fans trying to reach the Detling venue for an Elton John concert in 2018 found themselves in two-hour long queues before they could even park up.

Fans leaving the Kent Showground after Little Mix - some faced three hour queues
Fans leaving the Kent Showground after Little Mix - some faced three hour queues

So just why is there such an issue?

"In the main," explains Stephen Wyatt of Margate-based Kent Events, which has been handling traffic management at big events for more than 20 years, "the issue is these shows take place where there is little to no public transport. So you're heavily reliant on cars.

"Are three hour queues to be expected? In some cases probably yes, but there are steps organisers can take to ease the problem."

His firm has handled the parking at events such as the Ramblin' Man Fair in Maidstone, Sundown Festival in Norfolk and Love Supreme in Sussex.

He adds: "There is always going to be a queue. If you look at these venues with 14-15,000 people, and they've all come by car, because there's no other means of getting there, you've got 7-8,000 cars trying to get out at the same time. It doesn't matter how many gates they've got in, they're all going onto the road in the same direction.

Big crowds - such as this for Little Mix in Detling in 2018 - will inevitably lead to long queues leaving the venue. Picture: Andy Jones
Big crowds - such as this for Little Mix in Detling in 2018 - will inevitably lead to long queues leaving the venue. Picture: Andy Jones

"That's an issue with Detling and that can't be resolved."

Just by way of comparison, a football fan from Thanet who recently attended England's World Cup qualifier against Andorra, managed to leave at the full-time whistle, catch a tube and a train and make it back home faster than the three hours many spend stuck in traffic at a Kent open-air show - such is the benefit of solid public transport links to help disperse crowds.

"The biggest issue in the 20-odd years I've been doing traffic management," says Stephen Wyatt, "is that it doesn't always feature highly on the organiser's radar. They tend to concentrate on what's inside the venue rather than outside. They can lose sight of the fact if you can't get your people in and out they're not going to come back."

A key fact, he highlights, is communication with punters - even before they get behind the wheel of their car to feel the feelgood mood generated by the concert deflated by the headache in getting home.

Seasoned gig goers will be only too aware of how an organised car park descends into a mass of seething metal boxes as everyone seeks a different direction they believe will get them back on the road first.

Tom Jones rocked the Hop Farm on Sunday - but many fans were then caught in lengthy traffic jams
Tom Jones rocked the Hop Farm on Sunday - but many fans were then caught in lengthy traffic jams

"It's all about people management in car parks," he explains. "People want to see activity.

"If the public is not informed, that free-for-all attitude occurs. If the organisers, at the outset, say to people there may be a delay getting in or out, please bear with us, and the stewards and the marshals talk to the public, you tend to reduce those issues dramatically.

"In general, it's educating the motorist."

So, if he were, purely hypothetically, organising the traffic management for a big outdoor event in the county, what would be his key advice to event organisers?

"Ask the public to lift share wherever possible and say to the organisers to consider shuttle buses. They are an additional expense, but it helps reduce the amount of traffic on the roads if you can get people to and from the nearest train stations, for example.

Thousands of fans flocked to see Olly Murs
Thousands of fans flocked to see Olly Murs

"When it comes to traffic management, I'd be building in signage to inform the public - and that is key.

"Even when they come in - tell them there may be a delay leaving. It's all about information.

"But you have to have the right people in place. Sometimes these organisations bring in people with no experience, they're just a person in a yellow coat standing on a road and they don't understand.

"There's always teams there, it's whether they are visible; and visibility is important. Our team carry illuminated batons to allow them to direct or stop the flow of traffic. They wear proper kit - it adds a bit of authority and people take notice."

Which, certainly for those arriving at the Hop Farm over the weekend, it should be pointed out, were also being deployed.

They can lose sight of the fact if you can't get your people in and out they're not going to come back.

A former police officer himself, he points out that Kent Police don't offer their traffic management support to these big events.

"We work very closely with the police at our events as you have police support. Kent Police do not support events. It's not a key issue, but it's a visual one. If you have a police officer in uniform, the public will respond to requests. If you've got a steward who may, or may not know, what to do, people will ignore them."

Kent Police, however, say that due to costs and resources, nationally officers no longer get involved - instead, traffic is handled by event organisers and traffic management company. Kent County Council also failed to respond - pointing us, instead to the event organisers which, in the case of the Hop Farm shows, has yet to respond.

But as gig-goer to both the Olly Murs and Tom Jones events at the weekend, KentOnline's Lynn Cox, who admits the car parks were "mayhem" when she reached her car, reflected "it takes three hours to fill up these car parks, it's common sense it will take three hours to empty them".

And, of course, the chances are we'll all forget about the queues when the next big show is announced.

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