Published: 12:13, 23 January 2019
| Updated: 14:17, 23 January 2019
A council is set to continue its “inconsistent” drinks ban at this year’s Castle Concerts - which many claim led to the event making huge losses last summer.
There was a political fall-out in 2018 when – for the first time in the programme’s history – the authority stopped attendees from bringing their own alcoholic or soft beverages onto the Rochester Castle grounds for pop concerts.
The same rules did not apply at the proms night event.
The concerts made a loss of more than £300,000 last year after the ban was brought into force.
Cllr Andy Stamp (Lab) asked deputy leader Cllr Howard Doe (Con) last night whether the council had reconsidered the controversial strategy.
He said: “I’ve spoken to many people who have attended the Castle Concerts regularly but decided to boycott the event purely on the basis of the drinks ban.
“Are you still going to allow drinks to be brought in for the proms concert, and are you still going to have an inconsistent policy applied to those events for 2019?”
In response, Cllr Doe said: “The character of the proms is one I think is different from the other events and therefore the answer to that is yes, we intend to use that format.”
Medway Council says the action was taken following advice from the police and other professionals after alcohol-fuelled incidents were reported at previous events, and is in line with other open-air concerts across the country.
Opponents of the drinks ban have suggested it was a “major factor” behind the £305,000 loss incurred by the council during last year’s programme.
The average attendance per performance dropped below 2,300 in 2018, despite standing at more than 4,000 the year before.
Council officers say there is “no absolute evidence” why last year’s numbers were down, although suggest the World Cup may have been a factor.
But Cllr Alex Paterson (Lab) insists it was the drinks ban which made people stay away.
He added: “In mathematical terms – this is algebra. We know what x equals because it’s the same as last year, and we know what y equals because it’s the same as last year.
“You’re looking for the variable – you’re looking for what is different in equation two from equation one. I’m saying, quite clearly, there is only one significant change on the previous eight years.”
Cllr Doe said he is “very hopeful” this year’s Castle Concerts will be successful.
He said one headline act has now been confirmed for the programme of concerts at Rochester Castle in July, with another “virtually signed up”.
An announcement is expected later in the year.
Meeting papers describe the act for Thursday night as a “major-named artist”, while the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and Collabro have already been announced as performing at the prom event.
Cllr Doe added: “We have been very careful this year in who we select as artists. I am hopeful this year – very hopeful – they will be successful.”
The average attendance of Medway Council’s Castle Concerts plummeted below 2,300 in 2018, with promoters said to “not know why” last year’s offering did not appeal.
Only 959 tickets were sold for the Jools Holland concert, although it did clash with England’s historic World Cup semi-final clash with Croatia.
Political opponents suggest the introduction of a drinks ban was a “major factor” in the decline, but the authority says it intends to continue to enforce this following advice.
However, Cllr Doe admitted there were issues attracting “top-quality” artists to perform at the 4,500-capacity venue.
He said: “More and more hire fees are being asked by artists – it really has gone up quite significantly.
“As a result, it becomes more and more difficult to get top quality artists into the castle gardens without putting the tickets up to a point where people are not prepared to pay silly amounts for it.”
More by this authorDean Kilpatrick, local democracy reporter