Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Island assesses Isle of Wight Festival impact

Traffic queuing outside Isle of Wight Festival 2012
Image caption Festival organisers blamed "freak weather" for the travel chaos ahead of the event

Three weeks on from the Isle of Wight Festival, councillors, police, residents and organisers are looking at how to avoid a repeat of the problems that brought the island to a standstill.

Chaos descended ahead of the event when heavy rain left the main car park waterlogged and hundreds of cars were unable to enter the site.

Organisers apologised for the problems, which they blamed on "freak weather".

Councillors and officers on the island have already met to discuss the best approach but the consensus is that the festival should remain as it is good for the island.

A petition calling for the event to be reduced in size has gathered more than 200 signatures.

The petition, launched by Jason Bunce, of Ryde, is calling for the council to cut the licensed capacity from 90,000 to 30,000 people.

Despite gaining permission in 2011 to increase the overall capacity from 70,000 to 90,000 - including staff and crew - organisers capped ticket sales for this year's event at about 55,000.

'Knee-jerk reaction'

Queues of cars trying to reach the three-day event at Seaclose Park, Newport, stretched to the ferry port at Fishbourne on Thursday 24 June. Many people spent the night in their cars.

John Giddings, whose company Solo, organises the festival, said: "We are considering all our options at this moment in time but we are not going to have a knee-jerk reaction to a freak weather occurrence."

Parents of pupils at nearby Medina College have launched Facebook group calling for a rethink about the festival's location.

The school was closed on the Friday of the festival. Head teacher Nathan Thomas said the closure was planned, partly because many of his pupils were involved in the event, working behind the scenes.

He said: "The festival is very positive for us - we have over 300 students involved. There was a lot of upheaval because of the traffic but the benefit for the school is huge."

Image caption Many festival-goers had to be towed out of the muddy fields by tractors or 4x4s

Other Facebook groups include IOW Festival Relocation and Wight Residents Voice for The Isle of Wight Festival, both of which are calling for the event to be moved.

Mr Giddings said he was aware that one family missed their grandmother's funeral after being stuck in the traffic.

When asked for his response on the impact the problems had on islanders, Mr Giddings said: "I think it's sorted the men from the boys with who supports it and who doesn't support it. It's not like we are forcing it upon them.

"It's been a very successful event over the years and I have to put actions in place to avoid that ever happening again.

Important to economy

"I am really sorry that we had this problem and I apologise profusely about it."

Simon Perry, co-founder of the VentnorBlog website , said: "Speaking to the people on the island, many are feeling ignored by Solo.

"Many people have commented that John Giddings apologised frequently to the festival-goers, but the impression is that he's said nothing to islanders.

"If they want to support of the island, it's widely thought that they'll have to do something to make up for the inconvenience caused."

Isle of Wight councillors Dawn Cousins, Julie Jones-Evans, Edward Giles, Barry Abraham and Margaret Webster, who represent the wards most affected by the gridlock, have called for any recommendations for the event's future to put before the Economy and Environment Scrutiny Panel.

In a joint letter to the council's director of economy and environment, they said: "We consider that the seriousness of the issues affecting our residents needs to be subject to formal scrutiny in the public arena."

According to the council, the Isle of Wight Festival is estimated to bring between £10m and £15m to the island's economy.

Councillor George Brown, cabinet member for the economy and licensing, said: "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."

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