Brian Ferguson: One jarring T in the Park note after another

IT is hard to believe it is now almost two years since the first serious doubts began to emerge over the T in the Park music festival.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the annual event. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

When the 20th event was held at Balado, in Kinross-shire, in July 2013 the future seemed set fair as Mumford & Sons, Rihanna and Kraftwerk entertained the masses.

No-one could have predicted the state of affairs that have since unfolded with a protracted battle with environmentalists, the worst traffic chaos in the event’s history and a political scandal which has still to reach its denouement.

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Now a damning dossier by Perth & Kinross Council has warned the event is at risk of not going ahead again unless its organisers overhaul their approach because their confidence in the running of the event had been so “undermined”.

With the virtual disowning of the festival by the local authority which had hosted it for the best part of two decades, it is worth considering where it all went wrong for T in the Park, an event that has long been enshrined in the county’s cultural landscape.

Its popularity may have slightly waned in recent years , thanks to competition from rival festivals on either side of the border, but for around a quarter of a million people it was the essential event of the Scottish summer.

Clouds of uncertainty began gathering over the country’s biggest live music event back in February 2014 when it emerged that it was having to find an alternative home – and fast.

Long-standing concerns over the safety of an underground pipeline running beneath its site at Balado came to a head with the declaration by Perth & Kinross Council that the 2014 would be the last to be held there.

It left the company facing a race against time to find a new venue and an announcement on the relocation to the Strathallan Estate, near Gleneagles, was made before the 2014 festival had even been staged. Trying to find a new site for T in the Park while planning for an event at Balado must have been an unenviable task for DF Concerts. But that task must have seemed trifling when compared to the run-up to the first event at Strathallan Castle.

Within weeks of the new venue being announced it was clear there was going to be significant and vocal opposition, which generated months of adverse publicity.

With final planning permission for the festival only secured in mid-May, less than two months before the event was due to take place, it is little wonder that ticket sales were worryingly slow.

The clear implication from last week’s council report – which revealed the event was nearly 20,000 short of its capacity – was that corners had been cut in a bid to save costs in the run-up to the event. There were also strong suggestions that senior council officers had been expressing concerns in advance about the plans for traffic management and security, the two areas of major failure which former police officers have been called in to address – if this year’s event goes ahead.

As we now know, all this was at a time when DF Concerts was involved in increasingly frantic negotiations to secure “state aid” for the event, discussions which eventually led to the Scottish Government handing over £150,000 to help meet the cost of the relocation.

With the results of Audit Scotland inquiry into that funding still to be published and the council’s threats to pull the plug on the event, it looks like an ominously challenging time ahead for all those involved with the event.