Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) is threatening legal action in an attempt to prevent a local residents group from holding a community event.

The Longmeadow and Bragbury End Residents Group (LBERG) is planning to hold a Broadwater Day 23 Jubilee Festival at Shephalbury Park from Friday, June 2 to Sunday, June 4.

The event is set to include a cinema night, overnight camping, live music, and a dog show.

But the council has said that if it goes ahead, it may take legal action.

James Smith, a trainee solicitor who is organising the event as part of LBERG, has not sought permission or a license for the event.

He says that neither is required, and that the event should be classed as a garden fete. Garden fetes are exempt from requiring licenses.

In addition to the licensing dispute, James also questions the need for council permission.

The council say they are the landowner, and that permission from them is therefore required.

But James said: "The park is held by the council for the enjoyment of the people.

"The Open Spaces Act makes clear that parks are for that purpose, and we don’t need permission to have assemblies."

James received a letter from SBC's acting solicitor, dated May 24 and seen by the Comet.

In that letter, the council said that it "does not accept" that the event can be classed as a garden fete.

James was told that "the council requires a clear and unequivocal undertaking" by May 25 that the event would not proceed and that a statement announcing that would be posted on LBERG's Facebook page.

No such undertaking has been given, and James told the Comet that the event will "absolutely" be going ahead.

In the same letter, the council threatened to take legal action, writing: "In the absence of the required undertakings, the council reserves the right to take further legal action without notice, including seeking injunctive relief."

According to the council, the event "cannot proceed lawfully" without a license and "without the consent of Stevenage Borough Council as landowner".

They said that a coronation event organised by LBERG and held at Shephalbury Park earlier this month was also "unauthorised".

"Unlicensed and unauthorised activities were carried out.

"Damage was caused to council property and material, including refuse and portaloos, were left on site.

"The council has reported the damage to the police and is considering what further steps to take in respect of the event."

That event was attended by Cllr Myla Arceno, who was then deputy mayor of Stevenage and has since become mayor. She acted as a judge in the dog show.

Speaking to us about the situation, James said: “This is our sixth year, and Stevenage Borough Council have been a hindrance from the beginning, despite great help from certain members of the executive [for the avoidance of doubt, this is not a reference to Cllr Arceno].

“They haven’t provided any evidence as to why we shouldn’t be classed as a garden fete.

“We don’t have high numbers, and we don’t promote it massively. 

“The government are quite clear that community events should not be interfered with – they’re deregulated for a reason. 

“I’ve got no issue applying for licenses if I need them, but the reality is that this will be a small community event. Getting a licence is only financially viable if you have hundreds of people attending. 

“It would be a different story if this was for personal gain, but we’re a residents group. If we make any profits, half of them will be held by us for future events, and half will be donated to charity. 

“If I wasn’t a solicitor, I may not understand some of the threats that the council are making – about injunctions, undertakings, and so on. 

“The council are missing out because they don’t want to be involved with this, despite us consistently reaching out to them. 

“They’ve just demanded that we do something and that’s not how it works. 

“The council have pledged to encourage culture, but every step of the way they’re trying to prevent it.

“I’m confident about our legal position, I’m confident that we’re exempt under the licensing act. 

“We’re not looking for 30,000 people, like Stevenage Day. We’re for the local people in our area, many of them can’t afford to go on day trips, holidays and so on. 

“And we’ll be lucky if we have 50 people in the park on a Friday night. 

“Some may choose to sleep there, and I don’t see that as a problem. 

“I slept in the park for the coronation event and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life, surrounded by the oak trees in the nicest park in Stevenage."

Cllr Sandra Barr, executive member for community, neighbourhoods, co-operative councils and children and young people at SBC, said: “We pride ourselves on working co-operatively with residents. We enjoy helping community groups to bring exciting events to our town for everyone to enjoy whilst making sure the event has been planned in line with legal requirements, licencing, safety measures and in partnership with our Blue Light Services colleagues.

“Unfortunately, the Broadwater Day 23 festival event is planned to take place over three days with unauthorised camping, festival tents, bouncy castles and live music.

"It is an unlicensed weekend event, that has not been approved by the council, who is the landowner.

"The advertised weekend event cannot proceed lawfully without appropriate authorisations under licensing legislation being in place.

"The council has not received an application for a licence for this event and we have not given consent.

“We are taking steps to stop this event from taking place to avoid noise complaints, unauthorised camping and littering, unlicenced entertainment and to place the safety of our residents first.

"We continue to support local events and work with organisers who follow the guidelines to produce safe and enjoyable event experiences, and more information can be found on our website.

“The Broadwater Day 23 festival has not followed these recommendations and we have asked the organisers to cancel the event due to the absence of proper licensing and consent from the council, as landowner. The council also reserves the right to take further legal action.”