A £3m ring of steel that was supposed to guarantee the future of the Glastonbury festival was blamed yesterday for a decision to block next year's event.
In a setback to the plans of Michael Eavis, the farmer who has hosted the festival on Worthy Farm in Pilton, Somerset, for 30 years, councillors voted on Thursday night to refuse a public entertainment licence for the event planned for June next year.
A handful of Pilton villagers attended the Mendip District Council meeting to claim that their 1,000-strong community had been turned into Colditz, the infamous German wartime prison camp, with roadblocks, watch towers and CCTV installed to prevent the problems with gatecrashers that had plagued previous festivals.
The £2m security operation, with a massive £1m fence encircling the site, left nothing to chance this year. It proved so successful, the councillors were told, that not one gatecrasher managed to get in. The small band of criminals intent on making rich pickings in the tented village were also kept out. They all ended up milling around Pilton.
A total of 1,089 crimes were attributed to the festival and 228 arrests were made. One person died in a hit-and-run accident outside the festival site, although the crime rate overall was down on the previous festival. Mr Eavis struck a deal with the Mean Fiddler organisation, which runs the Reading rock festival and other big events, to administer the event after admitting the security had become too difficult.
A council spokesman said three main issues dissuaded the board from granting the licence. "The board didn't accept that Glastonbury Festival Limited would deliver security for the village of Pilton and surrounding villages," he said. "Secondly, the environmental damage on the area and finally the unsuitability of the site, as villagers said the festival had outgrown it. There were several vociferous villagers at the meeting who spoke very strongly against the festival."
Mr Eavis has 21 days to appeal to magistrates against the decision, which he has done successfully several times in the past.
Despite the setback, he was insistent yesterday that next year's festival, planned for 27 to 29 June, would take place. REM have already announced they will play, although the rest of the line-up is yet to be announced. He said the council vote had been affected by six absences from the 15-strong committee, which had left Conservative councillors who had opposed the festival for many years to hold sway.
"It's the first time ever that we have had total support from the officers at the council – the first time they have said this must go through – and the police were very supportive, so we have nothing to worry about from the point of view of the law," he said.
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"All the authorities are on our side on this, which is what the appeal is all about. There is nothing standing in our way."
He conceded there had been problems with trespassers in the village, but could not see why some villagers claimed to have been frightened. "There was nothing really nasty out there. If somebody had been hit or knifed, that would have been different."
Yet councillors were unconvinced by his promises that extra police and security staff would be made available for the village to combat the problems caused by those who could not get in.
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