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The Joy of Festivals: There is a lot of red-tape behind the revelry

The 2017 festival season is now, officially, well under way. The Isle of Wight and Download have already taken place. This week, Glastonbury will be dominating the music news, with Latitude and Wireless following hot on its heels.

In a bid to be topical, and also as an excuse to look at this year's line-ups, this week's blog takes a look at some of the hoops that a festival organiser has to jump through in order to get each event off the ground. 


For the vast majority of festivals, planning is not actually that much of a concern. If the festival is the only event at the venue in that calendar year (and the choice of location is not environmentally sensitive or historically significant), then it may very well not need planning permission at all. Most sites in England benefit from permitted development rights which allow temporary changes of use for a limited period (up to 28 days in a calendar year, subject to additional restrictions for markets and racing events). Temporary structures associated with the event may also benefit from permitted development rights and would not usually require planning permission provided that they were fully dismantled and the site fully restored once the event was over.

Venues which hold regular events would require planning consent, but that permission would usually relate to the use of the site as an events venue more generally rather than to a specific festival. Venues with this type of planning permission (such as music venues, conference centres etc.) will usually be subject to conditions governing the size, number and type of events held there. As long as the festival being planned meets those conditions, there should not be a problem.


Whilst the planning regime for festivals is relatively straightforward, the same cannot be said for licensing. 

Depending on the size of the event, and what the festival is celebrating, any one of a myriad of different licences and consents will be required before the festival can go ahead. These may include, but are not limited to:

  • Entertainment and alcohol licences - depending on the size of the event, this could be done by applying for a Temporary Event Notice, but these are only appropriate for small scale events for fewer than 500 people. Otherwise a Premises Licence will be required.
  • Music permits may also be required from the Performing Rights Society (PRS) who collect fees towards royalty payments for composers. These are usually required in addition to the entertainments licence.
  • A temporary structures licence, formally known as Section 30 Consent, will be needed. These are provided through the local Council's Building Control Team, who are responsible for ensuring that the temporary structures on the site are safe.
  • If the event includes five or more stalls selling goods or food, then it will be deemed to include a market, and a Private Operators Licence will be needed.
  •  Consents would also be required from the Highways Authority, if you needed to close a road to facilitate the event.

And this is without even considering the contractual and commercial negotiations, intellectual property issues, health & safety concerns, police liaison and security issues, and the sheer practical logistics involved in getting a large-scale event off the ground.

Keeping on top of all of the paperwork is often a full time-job, with many of the larger festivals employing a permanent events management team to make sure it all runs smoothly.  For anyone interested in how a Local Council copes with the ramifications of a large-scale music festival, the following article from Somerset Live is a real eye-opener!

Finally, If all of the red tape has got you down and you want to see some of the feats of engineering that goes into Glastonbury, I thoroughly recommend this article in the Guardian:

Councillor Nigel Taylor, Portfolio Holder for Neighbourhood and Community Health Services, said the council was proud to know the eyes of the world would be on Mendip. He said Glastonbury's reputation as one of the planet's best festivals was well deserved.
“But while thousands of revellers are enjoying themselves at the festival our staff are hard at work behind the scenes, working with festival organisers to check everything from food and noise to litter and unlicensed vehicles, and working to reduce the impact the festival can have on residents living in the immediate area.

“We have an excellent working relationship with the festival organisers and all of the partners involved in the running of the event, which is what helps to make it one of the best music festivals in the world.””