Licence approved for new 'Durfest' music and arts festival in Durham - despite fears from neighbours

Music and arts festival Durfest is set to become an annual event after councillors granted a premises licence – despite residents’ objections.

The student-led charity event was due to take place in the grounds of Durham City RFC in June but was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite the setback, festival bosses have been pushing ahead with plans for next year’s festival with a date of Saturday, June 5 2021.

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As part of this, a premises licence application was submitted to host ‘one outdoor event each year’ at the sports club off Green Lane.

The Durfest event now has a licence to take place each year at Durham City Rugby Football ClubThe Durfest event now has a licence to take place each year at Durham City Rugby Football Club
The Durfest event now has a licence to take place each year at Durham City Rugby Football Club

Thousands are expected to attend the festival which will raise money for the charity Rainforest Alliance.

Licensable activities in the application included alcohol sales, the provision of films indoors, live music at marquee and open air stages, amplified recorded music, performances of dance and late night refreshment.

However, the bid sparked concerns from Whinney Hill Community Group (WHCG) about the potential impact of the event on neighbours in terms of noise, transport and antisocial behaviour.

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In a written statement to Durham County Council licensing chiefs, WHCG secretary Diane Ward called for the licensing application to be withdrawn.

“The document [event manual] claims that no disturbance is anticipated in relation to the event,” she said.

“This shows absolutely no insight into the lived experience of Durham residents when large events are held and alcohol is involved.

“The claim is at best a naïve triumph of hope over expectation but in reality it is an insult towards those in the community whose lives are regularly blighted by the anti-social behaviour which always ensues around such events.”

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The statement was presented at a Statutory Licensing Sub-Committee which was held via videolink and broadcast live on YouTube.

Other concerns included the number of visitors attending, parking issues and the timing of the event at the end of the university term with fears about private student parties.

Applicants Alexander Comaish and Rosa Montague-Vaughan defended the festival plans at the hearing and addressed several concerns from residents.

Councillors heard there would be 19 SIA trained door supervisors which would rise to 23 or 24 if visitor numbers reached 5,000.

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A team of stewards would also be on hand directing visitors to advice points and to security staff for bigger issues, with plans in place around crowd management and emergency exits.

Other measures included speaker systems designed to reduce noise spillage, a child safety policy and organisers potentially partnering with clubs in Durham City to arrange an official Durfest afterparty.

This would aim to encourage students to leave the site earlier to avoid potential parties at houses in multiple occupation in residential areas.

Organisers added they were keen for the whole community to be involved, with the event catering for both a student and family audience.

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At the meeting, Cllr Amanda Hopgood raised concerns about the New Elvet Bridge closing for 14 months for essential repairs and the potential impact on emergency services, taxis and residents due to the large festival crowds.

Although driving to the event would be discouraged and walking and public transport promoted, festival bosses added they would be willing to set up a dedicated park and ride with the council.

Alternative locations for Durfest such as Wharton Park and Durham Racecourse were also explored and discounted, the meeting heard.

After hearing evidence, the council’s sub- committee approved the premises licence application – subject to extra conditions agreed with Durham Constabulary for the safe operation of the event.

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Two additional conditions were also added by councillors on the sub-committee, including licence holders engaging with the council’s Safety Advisory Group three months before Durfest takes place every year.

As organisers will also be appointing external companies to supply alcohol and late night refreshment, the licence holders must provide details of the firms involved at least one month in advance of an event.

Opening hours for the festival and alcohol sales on the premises would be limited to 11:30am – 12:30am.

Live music at two outdoor stages will also cease by 11pm and continue in a marquee until midnight.

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