Hitchin’s Rhythms of the World cancelled following licence refusal

Hitchin's Rhythms of the World festival has been cancelled.

Hitchin's Rhythms of the World festival has been cancelled. - Credit: Archant

The much-anticipated return of Hitchin’s Rhythms of the World festival to the town centre has been cancelled.

The Rhythms team say they have been left with no choice but to call off the planned one-day revival on August 11, after district councillors yesterday refused permission to hold the festival in Hitchin’s Market Place and High Street.

North Herts District Council’s licensing and appeals sub-committee green-lit events at St Mary’s Church, the third planned venue for Rhythms – but ruled against festivities in Market Place and High Street following objections from police and a district council environmental health officer.

The sub-committee – chaired by Baldock Town Conservative councillor Michael Muir, with Letchworth South West Conservative councillor Mike Rice and Knebworth Liberal Democrat councillor Lisa Nash – was unanimous in its decision.

And Mr Muir told the Comet that although it was a great shame Rhythms had been cancelled, it would not be fair to blame the sub-committee.

“The objections and evidence from the police and environmental health were very, very strong,” he said.

“After our decision, it was then said the vicar wouldn’t give permission if it were just the church grounds.

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“The problem is, during the hearing the applicant didn’t say that to the committee. If they had said that, then we might have decided something different.

“Other sites were discussed – Bancroft and Butts Close, and how it might be preferable to have it in those locations so far as the police and environmental department are concerned. But the application wasn’t for that.

“I think it’s a great pity that the applicants didn’t give us all the information. They presented their case, and the police and environmental department put their case forward, and then they had a chance to ask questions. They had two chances to tell us the vicar wouldn’t give permission.

“The police said if it was in the church and church grounds, it would be more controllable – and that was the reason for our decision.”

The police statement had concluded that the number of people likely to attend the festival, and the lack of what officers considered a suitable traffic management plan for a town centre event, gave the Herts force no option but to object.

The decision has been met with widespread dismay – particularly as the Rhythms team have worked so hard to bring the free festival back after a two-year hiatus.

Hitchin vicar Canon Michael Roden told this paper: “To clarify matters, the festival was going to have two aspects – the party aspect in Market Place, and we were going to host the reflective side of the festival in St Mary’s.

“I said to the organisers, before the hearing, that if their two-part licence was in trouble they should not hesitate to abandon the church licence in favour of the licence for Market Place – as Rhythms began in Market Place and is first and foremost a community party and get-together in the public square.

“Councillor Muir from Baldock has implied that I have said ‘no’ to the festival. Nothing could be further from the case. The default setting of St Mary’s Church is to support, affirm and deepen the rich communal life of Hitchin.

“Making licensing decisions so remotely from local people has a great downside. We live in a risk-averse culture, but we do well to remember that not allowing a positive festival can actually risk taking something away from the character from the town.”

Rhythms has since confirmed that town venues are still going to hold events on August 11 to show support and “keep the spirit of Rhythms of the World alive”.

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