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Organisers have hit back at claims that the axing of Leichhardt Council’s Acoustica Festival was “secretive” and politically motivated.

Liberal Councillor Vera-Ann Hannaford and Labor counterpart Darcy Byrne expressed concern that the event, which is this year being replaced by the smaller, more youth-oriented Flightpath Festival, was abandoned without Council consultation.

Recently, Cr Hannaford circulated an email to Council Executive, claiming that organisers had failed to follow Council procedure in the reallocation of $40,000 from Acoustica to the Flightpath Festival.

But Festival Committee organiser, Greens Councillor Cassi Plate, said that there was no secret about the changes. Plate said that as well as announcing the changes at last year’s festival, she had made amendments to the Council budget in June which reflected the change of name and venue, as well as commissioning a report on the Festival which was submitted to the Community Services Committee, none of which had generated any objections from Council. She said she had offered an apology to Cr Hannaford, but defended the committee’s approach.

“The process has been nothing but open,” Plate said.

“Councillors absolutely had every opportunity to raise doubts before. It is actually a more open committee than it had been. The changes did come as a surprise to some people, but not because the process was not open.”

Plate suggested that a busy Council agenda in 2009, which included the failed Metro project and ongoing issues surrounding Callan Park, saw the music festival slip past the attention of some councillors. She said that the changes were common knowledge to senior staff, who were “very supportive”.

The criticism follows claims from former festival creative director, Jim Conway, that the Acoustica overhaul was a politically motivated move by The Greens. Labor councillor Darcy Byrne also called for an explanation of the decision.

“The fact that more than 5,000 people attended last year’s event is evidence of how popular it is in the community,” Byrne said.

“The Council needs to explain why proper process has not been followed and why they are so desperate to wipe out such a popular community festival.”

But Cr Plate said those attendance numbers were “blown up” and that last year’s attendance was closer to 400. She also said that a report on the 2009 Festival showed it drew audiences mostly from outside the area, a factor which contributed to the decision to change format.

“There was absolutely no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the festival had to change, and not for political reasons, but to make it more accessible and in line with our own cultural policies,” she said.

As well as dwindling attendance, Plate cited problems with the Birchgrove site, inaccessibility by public transport, and a shift in the area’s demographics towards young families.

“Other promoters provide big-ticket events and people are willing to pay for that. We want to focus on events that actually involve the community,” she said.

Councillor Plate described political disputes over the festival as “rubbish” and “extremely frustrating”, but was confident that the festival, which is planned for March 28, will go ahead as planned at the Sydney College of Arts in Rozelle.

A supplementary report on the Festival was tabled at February’s Leichhardt Council meeting, where the event was approved.

by Rees Steel