A CONTROVERSIAL open-air dance music festival on the edge of the Wye Valley this weekend has been given the go-ahead after organisers offered to bring forward its closing time on both nights.

Nick Semper the agent for Gemfest told Herefordshire Council’s licensing sub committee that GemFest would go ahead on a Howle Hill farm near Ross-on-Wye regardless of the council decision on the matter.  

He said: “A temporary event notice (TEN) for a more limited event has already been issued which would allow for up to 500 people to attend and have music blaring until 4am.”

The event was scheduled to run from Friday, June 14, until the following Sunday, June 16, until 3am each night, at Great Howle Farm near Walford.

However, GemFest 2024 faced widespread opposition from local residents ahead of a decision this week by Herefordshire Council’s licensing subcommittee, which was told that organisers had revised their bid shortly before the meeting, asking only that it be permitted to run until midnight both nights.

Mr Semper said that a typical ‘drop-out rate’ meant there would only be 600-800 festival attendees at any one time, with around 500 camping.

The meeting heard from Richard Gwyn Powell, speaking on behalf of his mother, a nearby resident, who claimed the planned event “would attract individuals with malicious intent, posing a significant risk of crime and disorder.”

He added: “If the event closes at midnight where do all these party goers go when the official entertainment finishes? Will this be monitored outside the venue and who will enforce it?

“This venue is situated in an isolated rural location with little in the way of public transport links. This will mean most will come by car and access to this site is via unclassified roads, inevitable leading to traffic congestion before and during and immediately after the event.”

Sub-committee chairman Cllr Polly Andrews pointed out that the police had made no objections to the proposal nor had the Highways authority.

Resident Chris Freeman said that “past experience tells us the bass-heavy music will echo round the valley,” and added: “With this being an over 18s event, located on top of a hill, in an open field, it is likely that combined with the noise will become an issue. Additionally it is likely to attract anti-social behaviour.”

Her husband David Freeman called for acoustic barriers around the site beyond the hay bales already proposed.

Andrew Corbett said the proposed 12 qualified security staff would mean “a high ratio of revellers to staff”, while there were “rumours locally of an influx of young people with no tickets”.

Mr Corbett added: “If disorder breaks out the organisers would not have enough qualified staff to cope. The venue is a large open-air space, it is a high volume vertical drinking venue with loud music aimed at young people.”

Marian Corbett said: “The music from five stages will be deafening. This event is being staged in totally the wrong place.”

“This committee is our last defence at getting the event stopped. The organisers’ plans are heavily reliant on there being no rain in the preceding days.”

Jacqueline Bradbury claimed that local holiday accommodation owners have had to forgo income over the weekend, while others have taken time off work in anticipation of losing sleep.

Helen De Pulfordd told the committee: “I am a long-standing resident of Howle Hill and I chose to live here. What advice do I have if I find a lot of people on my land? Do I contact the police? There is no benefit to the local community in putting up with this festival.”

Julie Brown said: “Having an outdoor festival like this is going to sound like broadcasting to the nation. The type of music amounts to being a noise nuisance.”

Mr Semper concluded that objections over GemFest had come not from authorities but solely from residents “who are no doubt good people”, but whose concerns had already been dealt with in submitted documents, he claimed.

“Fear and speculation are not admissible to this application. Responses should be evidence-based. There is no history of problems at this site.”

Event organiser Sam Southan added he had already given out his personal contact details locally, via which noise concerns could be addressed during the event.

The subcommittee approved the application on condition that the previous temporary event notice be withdrawn, and the revised premises licence adhered to.

“The subcommittee fully recognises the concerns brought by residents and the reasons for them,” Cllr Andrews said. But the application “is comprehensive and will promote the licensing objectives”.

The residents were told that officers from Herefordshire Council will be attending GemFest and will be carrying out environmental noise monitoring during the event.