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Whitstable harbour officials reject bid for star-studded music festival on west quay

By Lydia Chantler-Hicks

Harbour officials have rejected plans for a music festival that could have seen stars such as Morrissey and Elvis Costello perform on a town's seafront.

Events firm Rocking Festivals Ltd came before Whitstable Harbour Board to propose the week-long festival for this September.

Company boss Vince Power - a music promoter who helped popularise festivals including Reading, Leeds and Benicàssim, and created Kent-based Hop Farm Festival - is behind the plans, which would see world-famous acts take to the stage in a 2,000-person marquee on the west quay.

Stars including Tom Odell, Morrissey, Van Morrison and Elvis Costello could have performed on the west quay (7054846)
Stars including Tom Odell, Morrissey, Van Morrison and Elvis Costello could have performed on the west quay (7054846)

Van Morrison, KT Tunstall, Tom Odell, UB40, Corinne Bailey Rae, The Pretenders, The Shires, and Toots and the Maytals feature on the potential line-up, along with a string of other acclaimed acts.

A spokesman for Rocking Festivals Ltd said: “The artists will be booked to appeal mainly to an audience of 30 years plus. The genres included will be mainstream rock, jazz, blues, traditional and folk - from artists with a strong fan base.

“Whitstable is very keen on live music, and we feel there’s an opportunity to create something on an international level here.”

The event - provisionally named Whitstable Harbour Nights - would run from noon until midnight each day, with artists performing either one-off gigs or performances over several nights.
Drinks and street food would also be available from bars, and stalls outside the marquee.

But while the Harbour Board thanked Mr Power and his team for considering Whitstable, they had reservations about the plans, and as landlords voted against giving permission to host the festival.

Cllr Bernadette Fisher
Cllr Bernadette Fisher

Cllr Bernadette Fisher said: “It’s a fabulous location, and I can see why you would think it would be fantastic to hold a festival here. But there are massive concerns of health and safety, and the effects this would have on fishermen.”

She cited problems experienced by residents in recent years, when Whitstable Oyster Festival chose the west quay as the site of The Shuck - a hub that hosted food, drink and musical entertainment throughout the event’s 10-day duration.

“We had people living around the area saying ‘I can’t bear this - I’m 75 and feel like I’m living in the middle of a concert hall’,” explained Cllr Fisher. “We can’t limit the sound from the west quay, and it’s just not fair.

“The harbour should be focused on the needs of the fishing industry, and that’s what we’ve decided in our strategic plan. Residents came to meetings and said ‘that’s what we want from the harbour’.

Cllr Brian Baker
Cllr Brian Baker

“So sadly, I think this is the wrong location. But if you do it somewhere else, count me in. I think it sounds fantastic and I hope you can realise it in the right location.”

Cllr Brian Baker also raised concerns about noise.

“We have history of this, that had massive problems for residents in terms of sound,” he said. “Sound does strange things when you’re in the quay - you get reverberation.

“Also, that quay has just been filled - we just moved all the fishermen’s things there. It’s their area now - whereas before it was completely cleared. So I thank you - I feel privileged that you are thinking of trying this - but I would say no.”

Joanne Asquith, owner of Milk and Honey Café in Whitstable and creative director of the festival, said: "Firstly we would like to thank the Harbour Board for their consideration and time. Of course we are disappointed with the decision not to host the Festival at the West Quay but do understand priority must be given to the fishermen. However, the site that we suggested was not the fishermen's compound, but the area leased by the Whitstable Yacht Club, who had expressed a keen interest in us utilising this space.

"The response within the community today has been overwhelmingly positive and we are delighted that so many local residents are behind the event.

"There are several other seafront sites that we are considering within the Canterbury district council and are currently in discussion with the events team. We will make an announcement shortly with regards to this exciting new festival.

"A big thank you to the local community for their continued support."

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