The owner of one of the most celebrated hotels in Cornwall has said plans to increase the size of the Boardmasters festival and close a busy coastal road for the five days of the event will “profoundly impact” local people and businesses, writes Local Democracy Reporter Lee Trewhela.

However, another business owner in the area has argued that Boardmasters helps keep local people employed and is a huge boon to the area.

The differing opinion locally of the huge music festival on the cliff at Watergate Bay, near Newquay, was evident at a meeting of a Cornwall Council this week.

A strategic planning committee was asked to make a decision on a bid for permanent planning permission for the event, which is usually given temporary approval each year. Boardmasters’ organisers were also asking to increase the size of the site at Trebelsue Farm, near Newquay airport, from 184.5 hectares to 229.2 hectares.

The meeting heard from planning officer Mark Evans that temporary impacts in the Newquay area while Boardmasters takes place include disturbance to roads, landscape, residents and businesses, but it was felt that the economic and cultural benefits of the festival outweighed any negatives, many of which are fully mitigated by conditions. He recommended approval.

Several people spoke both for and against the application. Dr Sarah Thomson, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a nearby resident, objected to the expansion, saying although she had no issue with the Boardmasters site as is, “I think that if it was to be proposed to be a new space taking over 50,000 visitors in fields adjacent to a cliff, bisected by a crucial road into Newquay, held in peak holiday season, I doubt it would get permission”.

She pointed out that earlier this year the council’s licensing department restricted numbers to 58,000 based on health and safety concerns. She said much of the land earmarked for an expansion, which could lead to a bid for higher capacity in years to come, is sloping and wasn’t suitable for events use.

Part of the Boardmasters site on the cliffs at Watergate Bay Part of the Boardmasters site on the cliffs at Watergate Bay (Image: Cornwall Council)

Dr Thomson also had concerns about the impact on wildlife on the periphery of the site, saying Boardmasters effect on it was “shameful”. However, the meeting heard that the local corn bunting population, a bird species which breeds at the coastal location, was actually growing after environmental mitigations were introduced in the area.

Will Ashworth, who runs Watergate Bay Hotel and Sands Resort, two businesses either side of the Boardmasters site – which employ 350 people all year round – said he represented others who live or own businesses locally.

He said he was speaking against the application as it “significantly changes the status quo and will profoundly impact the local community. The festival proposes to increase the site area by approximately 20 per cent and Boardmasters have told me that this would allow them, with licensing approval, to increase numbers up to 76,000 – that is a 43 per cent increase in an already congested location.

A map showing the extended Boardmasters site layout outlined in red. The dark blue line shows the extent of the current festivalA map showing the extended Boardmasters site layout outlined in red. The dark blue line shows the extent of the current festival (Image: Cornwall Council)

“The fundamental issue is that the main coast road bisects the festival site. The road is used by thousands every day during August for commuting, accessing services and the amenities of Newquay. It is also used by many holidaymakers – the lifeblood of local businesses.”

Mr Ashworth told the meeting that for years a temporary traffic order allowed only evening road closures, but this year police have requested a newly legislated anti-terrorism traffic regulation order as a safety mitigation, which would allow Boardmasters to fully close the road for five days.

“The police believe Boardmasters will only open the road daily between 5am and 9am which is of no use to most road users. The detour takes 30 minutes and will stop visitors to the area. If a new festival requested such disruptive planning regulation, it would surely be rejected,” he added.

The hotelier asked Boardmasters to find a “meaningful solution” to avoid closing the road and should rethink the site layout and “not make the local community pay the price for their commercial success”.

Mayor of Newquay Drew Creek, was next to speak on behalf of the town council, which is “broadly supportive” of the overall application and had returned a ‘no objection’, but would like to see an improvement to the enforcement of unlicensed street traders during the festival run.

He said the town council always found the organisers to be open to “constructive comment, listening to concerns and then acting on them”. As an example, following concerns about shuttle bus costs last year, the town council was pleased to see the price halved this year. Newquay council didn’t feel that the impact of the new plan would worsen any disruptions which already exist and councillors were keen to be supportive given Boardmasters’ economic impact on the town and across Cornwall.

Mr Creek said Boardmasters had made clear that the site expansion would dramatically reduce the amount of haulage needed each year and reduce the impact on the road network. The town council also welcomed increased coach travel from towns across Cornwall and the rest of the country, and the festival’s commitment to being net zero by the end of 2025, and how much the Boardmasters Foundation donates to Newquay and its young people.

Liz McKenzie, was next to address the committee on behalf of St Mawgan-in-Pydar Parish Council, which opposes the plan. “Effectively what is being proposed is not a permanent permission for an existing event but a permission for a much enlarged event,” said the councillor, who felt that the festival might be outgrowing its current site.

Andrew Topham, CEO and founder of Boardmasters Festival, told councillors: “It was more than 20 years ago that I first sat in front of this committee and asked for planning consent to start the festival. Every year we strive to improve and I believe we have.”

He said he’d kept the original promise to share the prosperity with Newquay and Cornwall – £43m every year. Mr Topham added that the festival organisers listen to all objections and concerns, and where possible adapt their plans to accommodate them. He said the extra space to the north of the site would include a lit public footpath to Watergate Bay, as well as bins, toilets and staff parking.

“The road closure is a really complex one,” said Mr Topham. “We’ve always tried to manage leaving it open for as long as we can. We have pressure from the police because they have national pressure because of counter-terrorism to reduce the ability of vehicles they can’t regulate on that strip of road.

"We try to balance that with the impact it has on neighbours and businesses. For the last 15 years it’s been closed approximately between 4pm and 3am. We’re proposing to leave it open for the morning for deliveries and early commuters, then close it from 10am through to 3am.”

Sam Carkeek, from Wax bar and restaurant in Watergate Bay, spoke in support of the application and noted there had been several negative reactions from the Newquay and Watergate Bay areas. “It’s important to put into context some of the true benefits the festival brings to the local community and the businesses,” he said, adding that his business quadruples during the festival run, which allows Wax to employ local people during the year, even the “down seasons”.

Mr Carkeek also acts for Newquay Sports Centre, which was threatened with closure in 2019. He said as a direct benefit of Boardmasters it has now become a successful hub for thousands of people in the town.

“Yes, it may cause a 10-minute diversion for our team to get to work, but that same festival which causes that extra 10-minute journey helps pay the wages of those staff when they’re driving to work in January. It’s simple – Boardmasters helps keep Cornish businesses open, helps keep Cornish people employed and puts Cornwall on the map.”

Local councillor Paul Wills, who called the application before the committee, said he was speaking on behalf of concerned residents, commenting “what a monster it’s become”. He argued that local people in neighbouring parishes don’t benefit and are “overwhelmingly inconvenienced” and said the five-day road closure was too impactful. Other Newquay councillors spoke both for and against the proposals.

Following discussion by the committee, the application was unanimously approved. After the meeting, Mr Topham said: “We are thrilled with today’s decision to grant planning permission to Boardmasters festival. We have always been proud to be part of Cornwall, and to have arguably the UK’s most stunning festival site as our home.

"Thanks to Cornwall Council, local residents, businesses and organisations, as well as our event partners for your ongoing support, feedback and consultancy.

“Without you, the festival would not be the success it is today. We look forward to continuing to work in close partnership with you all.”