Licensing rules introduced last month by Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) will place more restrictions on already hard-pressed sound systems and street traders. The rules were brought in on 23 May by the insistence of the Metropolitan Police (MPS), which raised concerns about “the safety and overcrowding in certain sections of the Notting Hill carnival ‘footprint’”.
Anyone wanting to play music or sell alcohol over the Carnival weekend must apply for a temporary event notice (TEN) from the council. The applicant has to ensure that no more than 499 people can attend the “premises” (which includes outdoor areas). They may have to provide stewards and/or security staff – who must be approved by the police. Simply applying for several TENs close to each other to allow more people to attend is not permitted. There are strict rules about how drinks may be served and advertised, and toilets will have to be provided nearby.
Licensed pubs and bars in the Carnival zone must close their door between 7pm and 9pm on both Sunday and Monday. RBKC claims that this is so that “a Carnival ‘close down’ period can be implemented in order to promote the ‘Prevention of Crime and Disorder’ and ‘Public Safety’ licensing objectives”.
The hardline policy has two main aims: to cut alcohol consumption and to reduce crowds around static sound systems. Writing to RBKC earlier in the year, Met Insp Eddie Armstrong explained why the force wanted the council crackdown:
“Excessive consumption of alcohol, by both suspects and victims of crime is often associated or indeed the cause of crime. These crimes can be violent causing injury. Irresponsible provision of alcohol (both on and off sales) undermine the licensing objectives, which can only increase violence and anti-social behaviour.
“Another major factor at NHC is public safety. There is mass crowding at NHC which has caused surges of overcrowding when violent incidents have occurred and the crowd is trying to get away from the incident.”
RBKC environment director Nicholas Austin said that people responding to a (poorly publicised) consultation were concerned that too much alcohol was consumed. The new measures seem likely to further reduce the number of stall holders at this year’s event (32 pitches remained unsold last year compared with only seven in 2016), but may not have the desired effect of reducing alcohol consumption given that so many people bring their own supplies.
The crowding at Carnival is undeniable, but is largely due to the MPS’s ‘containment’ of Carnival in an increasingly restricted zone. It is exacerbated by the 7pm global sound system shutdown that forces tens of thousands of revellers onto the same few roads at the same time in order to get out of the area.
Whilst alcohol does play a part in disorder at Carnival, just as it does in any high street on any Friday or Saturday night in the UK, the excessive focus on this one cause of ‘trouble’ is misleading and unhelpful. The new licensing rules perpetuate the Met’s myth that Notting Hill Carnival is uniquely crime-affected. As Soca News and other publications have demonstrated over many years, the level of crime and disorder officially reported at Notting Hill is below the statistical average for an area of London containing this many people, and is well below that of most other UK festivals.
It is hard to escape the suspicion that the unholy alliance of RBKC and the MPS is determined to kill off Notting Hill Carnival in that most British of ways – strangulation by red tape. The new organisers will have to be alert and determined if they are to prevent police and council from crushing the life out of our Carnival.
Now where’s that bottle ah rum ah had in meh hand…?