ORGANISERS of Remenham's Rewind Festival have been forced to climb down from controversial plans to accommodate up to 30,000 people at its event after the council ruled this to be too large an increase.

The festival, which is based in the north of Wokingham borough at Temple Island, Remenham, currently allows 19,999 people to enjoy live music at the site every year.

A new application from the organisers asked for the capacity of the festival to increase every year to 2022, with 23,000 coming to Remenham in 2019, 26,000 in 2020, 29,000 in 2021 and 29,999 in 2022.

But after a five-hour-long debate in which Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) licensing panel members heard arguments from angry residents and festival promoters, it was decided the festival will only be allowed to expand to entertain 23,000 music-lovers for the foreseeable future.

John Halsall, ward councillor for Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe, voiced his opposition to the plans at the meeting on Monday, March 18, and after the decision was announced, he told the News: “I’m disappointed the licence has been issued but I am pleased the licensing panel took into account the concerns of the residents.

“I would encourage Rewind to work with me and my parish council and the residents to minimise the disruption to residents and other users of the parish.”

Starting times for live music at the festival, which features pop music from the 1980s, will be changed from the current time of 6pm to 11am on the opening Friday, and will continue to 1am instead of 12am on the Friday.

But festival organisers were denied the chance to play recorded music and serve late night refreshments at the campsite bar until 3am, with councillors forcing these activities to shut down at 1am instead.

On the Sunday, activities will start at 12pm rather than 11am, after residents pointed out potential disturbance to those worshipping at a nearby church.

The licensing panel, made up of WBC councillors Lindsay Ferris, Emma Hobbs and Chris Bowring, revealed their decision on Monday, March 25, after hearing residents’ concerns.

At the meeting a week prior, Cllr Ferris had been vocal about his concerns about the attendance increase at the site.

He said: “I’m very reluctant to go up to 30,000 people – I’m just concerned. I don’t have confidence that this site will be able to take 29,999 people. That’s the real issue for me.”

Cllr Hobbs also outlined her fears around traffic management in Remenham, but Rewind Festival Director Joe Drape played down these issues.

He told councillors: “My business is delivering festivals across the UK. We have an interest in making sure Rewind is here for years to come.

“What we have demonstrated is that we can improve the issues around traffic.”

Cllr Bowring later quizzed Rewind representatives about expected noise levels at the event, suggesting an increase in capacity will mean more noise disturbance for Remenham’s residents.

However, Simon Taylor, Rewind’s legal adviser, pointed out: “There were no noise complaints received by us or by the council in 2018. The reason we have been able to run this festival each year is because we have been able to create a relationship with the community.”

Despite this, a group of disgruntled residents let the panel and the organisers know their thoughts about the planned expansion.

Before the meeting, Remenham Farm Residents Association (RFRA) sent a response to the council which pointed out that a number of events take place within Remenham Parish despite being named after Henley, such as Henley Festival.

Michael Dudley, a member of the RFRA, said: “We are used to a very low noise level, when you bring it up it is a bloody nuisance. Every single one (festival) wants more. Enough is enough. We don’t have a problem with three days, but we do have a problem with 30,000 people. If that is not a nuisance then I don’t know what is.”

Fears about safety were also raised at the hearing, and despite resident Nigel Gray suggesting locals saw an “improvement” in traffic management in 2018 from 2017, the enhancements were not good enough as when Mr Gray had tried to take his wife to hospital, he could not get through due to the congestion in the area.

Remenham man David Law claimed the increase would mean an accident would be “waiting to happen.”

Cllr John Halsall concluded residents’ speaking time by suggesting the event would not result in added benefit to the local economy.

He continued: “Residents are held hostage for two weeks and in particular, the week of the event. This event happens in Remenham, not Henley. For two weeks of the year, residents are obliged to leave their homes and to go away.”

Although no members of the public spoke in favour of the plans at the meeting, the proposals had been supported in writing by nearby businesses.

Hobbs of Henley supported the application, as did Moorings Master Steve Ryan-Bell and Tanya Copas, Director of the Copas Partnership which owns Temple Island, who said: “Rewind Festival is now an established and intrinsic part of our business.

“The income from Rewind helps us to maintain large areas of our land as open parkland, which very many people can enjoy, both in terms of views and amenity, and we are able to employ local, professional staff to work across our event season.

“I am aware that it has a positive commercial impact both on the businesses in Henley-on-Thames, and the wider area, including establishments in Remenham, Hurley, and as far afield as Maidenhead and Reading.”

Despite this, Rewind Festival has been told it can only increase its capacity to 23,000 – almost 7,000 shy of what it had hoped for.