THE congestion problems that occurred on Thursday and Friday were unacceptable. They should not have happened and should not be allowed to happen again.
Whilst some level of disruption will always occur, this has previously been manageable at a level that Island residents can work around. Unexpected and heightened levels of disruption this year caused understandable frustration and anger. I have much sympathy for those whose personal circumstances were affected to an intolerable extent.
We now need, as a matter of priority, to sit down with the organisers and our partners to confirm exactly what went wrong, and why. We need to agree what must be done to ensure that such problems do not arise again. The Isle of Wight Council follows this process each year with organisers and partners but the wash-up this time will clearly have new urgency and focus.
A calm, measured approach is required on all fronts. Decisions about changes in practice have to be based on facts and evidence, not soundbites and kneejerk reactions. The Island must not lose sight of the great benefits – both economical and cultural – that the festival brings.
Let’s not forget also that many thousands of the people who attended last weekend’s event are Island people, who can now enjoy artists of a calibre that not so long ago they could never have dreamed of seeing here.
I write as the Cabinet Member for the Economy and Licensing, when I say that this year’s problems should not be used to undermine or compromise an event that is so important to the Island, its economy, its profile and to a great many of its residents. The festival puts many millions into the Island’s economy each year. Less tangible, though equally welcome, is the substantial cultural benefit the event brings, and the profile it gives to the Island as a destination for a new generation of visitors.
Regrettable though the unacceptable level of congestion was, it need not happen again as our arrangements for the departure of those attending the festival clearly demonstrated. It is evident that ground conditions at the festival car parks, which are under the control of the organisers, caused a massive build up of traffic at the site, with a knock-on effect on roads for miles around. Given the heavy rainfall before people arrived, contingency plans for the parking area and alternatives simply did not stand up to the pressure. A far more weatherproof arrangement will be required for future events.
Council officers deserve much credit for their emergency actions and for the plans they developed with partners for getting traffic away after the event. A small team of officers worked almost without sleep during the crucial period and they have rightly been praised by those, including members of the public, who saw them in action. The smoothness of the exit arrangements was a testimony to the collective work by all concerned.
I will not be joining those who are calling for sanctions against the festival organisers or who attribute the problems to numbers attending. We have now had 11 festivals – some of which have been larger than this one – without experiencing this year’s degree of difficulties. Failure in contingency plans around the event car parks is an issue that can be resolved effectively without a heavy hand or unhelpful recrimination. The council will have a positive role to play in this process and I believe the input of our local knowledge will be key to achieving more resilience in future.