A Cornwall Council health and safety officer has raised serious concerns about the growth of Boardmasters, the biggest annual music event in Cornwall.

The festival has applied to increase its capacity by 7,000 to 60,000 – though the actual number including artists and staff would be 66,000 – by 2026.

Concerns about emergency evacuation, crowd management, welfare facilities being “overwhelmed”, traffic, a “chaotic” car park and how the festival organisers deal with the weather have been filed in a report to Cornwall Council’s licensing department. A meeting will be held next week to decide if the five-day festival can welcome even more music fans to the Trebulsue Farm site at Watergate Bay.

The application by BM Management Ltd seeks a phased increased capacity from 53,000 last year to 58,000 in 2024 (including 5,000 staff/performers and non-ticket holders per day), 65,000 in 2025 (including 5,850 staff/performers and non-ticket holders per day) and 66,000 in 2026 (including 6,000 staff/performers and non-ticket holders per day). The event is estimated to bring in £40m to the local economy each year.

Cornwall Council health and safety officer Ann Marie Jameson has filed a report to be heard at a licensing committee meeting on Wednesday, February 14, in which she says she has concerns regarding the proposed increase.

She said: “If an increase of up to 66k was allowed I would be concerned that emergency evacuation of the site would be compromised. In order to evacuate this quantity of people to a place of safety or to assist them to get home... it would put a strain on all of the [transport] network as well as the local town of Newquay; as we have seen before when this has happened – the young demographic of this audience does not assist with this process.

“2022 saw a heatwave at the festival, water provision issues were experienced with huge amounts of bottled water having to be brought onto site and hygiene problems with the toilets and sewage overflowing from them. Infrastructure issues had partially caused this and the event management team did respond and rectify the situation within a few days. However this was with a 53k capacity.”

She went on to mention how “significant fog” led to an influx of people entering the Dockyard venue on the Sunday night believing it was the exit. Combined with other music fans entering the area due to mis-scheduling, the venue became “overwhelmed” and the show had to be stopped.

“Structures on site are extremely problematic especially when faced with strong winds,” added Ms Jameson. “The site currently has capacity for approximately 22k people to be undercover in the arena at any one time, whether that be to seek shade or avoid torrential rain. This is under 50 per cent of the current event capacity.”

She said the festival had improved its safety standards as it has grown in size, with the event organisers investing significant money to improve safety. However, she was concerned about plans to increase the size of the site and without seeing those plans couldn’t ascertain the effects on health and safety.

The council officer added that last year Boardmasters experienced crowd management issues, including queues, main stage pit barrier issues, venues exceeding safe capacity limits, medical and welfare facilities being overwhelmed and significant lighting failures, “with Blue car park being particularly chaotic and inadequately managed”.

She wrote: “The proposed application seeks to increase entertainment finish times and alcohol availability until 4am. This will affect security, medical and welfare provision. It is therefore my opinion that although we have seen some improvements with the event each year, I would recommend an increase in capacity of up 5,000 at this point, to a total capacity of 58,000.

“There are significant concerns relating to the limitations and location of the festival site which I believe is nearing capacity.”

The licensing committee has also received a letter from Cllr John Fitter, the Cornwall councillor who represents the area where the festival is held. He said: “For the 2023 event there was a breakdown in the traffic management plan. Road closure orders were in some places not correctly manned by their stewards or, in one case, no steward was present for the entire time.

“This application is premature and until we can judge whether the applicant, along with planning enforcement and licensing, can demonstrate that they have taken on board the numerous concerns over the 2023 event there I would respectfully submit there can be no increase in numbers.”

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service has no concerns about the proposed increase as long as exits and routes are suitably adjusted, each venue is managed to avoid overcrowding and the site is not expanded in the direction of the cliffs.

A spokesperson for Boardmasters said: “We review all operational procedures every year. Regarding the licence application, the public forum is open, as it should be, and we welcome all feedback from the community.

“We are proud to produce the biggest event of its kind in Cornwall and our continued goal is to grow and develop the festival to drive even greater economic impact for Newquay and the county, to bring more jobs to the region and to serve the community through the Boardmasters Foundation.

“All concerns and feedback will be discussed in detail at next week’s hearing and we look forward to the final decision from Cornwall Council and the licensing committee.”

The festival’s founder Andrew Topham has previously said if the capacity increase was allowed “we would be able to take the festival to the next level. That means even bigger artists from all over the world, even more content for our attendees to enjoy, greater economic impact locally, more jobs as we increase staffing numbers and much more. Operationally, it would allow us to further elevate festival facilities, create more space, and enable us to continue to invest in our industry leading safeguarding work”.

The festival spends £2.1m with local suppliers to stage the event, equating to approximately 321 jobs being supported in Cornwall.

Olly Monk, Cornwall councillor for Newquay Trenance, said last year: “The growth plans are exciting, particularly in our hard current economic climate, when the creation of additional jobs, larger contracts for Cornish business and more tourism to fuel our economy are hugely important for Newquay and Cornwall.”

The festival has this week applied for planning permission which would include an extension to the main festival arena, scope for more parking, a pedestrian footway from the site to the neighbouring village of Porth  and improved crossing points to the camp sites and car parks.