'We're not distancing ourselves with relocation,' says Sheffield's Tramlines festival as foundation speaks out on failed takeover

The Tramlines main stage crowd on the Ponderosa
The Tramlines main stage crowd on the Ponderosa

A group that led a failed bid to take over the Tramlines music festival in Sheffield has argued the event will 'lose its essence' by moving to Hillsborough Park - but organisers have insisted the celebration will 'remain connected to the city' after its relocation.

Tramlines is set to move to the park from the Ponderosa, in Upperthorpe, next July, more than doubling the main stage's crowd capacity to around 40,000 people.

Earlier this year the Sheffield-based Music City Foundation announced its £1.2 million proposal to 'buy back' the festival had been accepted, in principle and subject to shareholder approval, by board members.

A public ownership model would have been followed, with shares offered to supporters and traders. A key aim was to protect the festival's free fringe element and its links to the middle of Sheffield.

But Winston Hazel, a Sheffield DJ and one of the not-for-profit organisation's directors, said the foundation later 'withdrew from the purchase' for several reasons.

The Tramlines board wanted proof of funds to the tune of £1.2m, he explained, and there were also concerns about the festival's 'sustainability in the current market'.

At a public meeting in Hillsborough last week, bosses accepted that the event had lost about £300,000 over the last two years.

"We looked at putting in an offer at a lower price - £600,000 was suggested - but we decided the Tramlines board would not entertain such a bid," said Winston.

Music City 'wished Tramlines well' in Hillsborough, he added, 'while believing the nature of the festival will inevitably change'.

"We believe it will no longer be Sheffield's festival, celebrating all that is great about the Steel City. It will no longer be the UK's best urban music festival, as the main arena will be completely detached from the city centre traders, bars, venues and open spaces that made the original version unique."

Winston said the festival would resemble a smaller version of Manchester's Parklife, or the Leeds and Reading events.

"There is nothing inherently wrong in that, but Tramlines will lose the essence of what made it unlike every other festival."

However, Sarah Nulty, Tramlines director, said: "Part of our thought process with wanting to move to Hillsborough Park is so we remain connected with the city. There are so many great parks in Sheffield that we could look at, but we want to make sure the transport link is there."

The relocation would also help to relieve pressure on the city centre, which she thought was at risk of becoming 'over-saturated'.

"Each year a new event pops up in the city centre, and operationally this is proving quite challenging."

Kelham Island will be a greater part of the mix next year, Sarah said, and prominent Sheffield venues and businesses were being approached to have a presence in the park.

"We want it to be a celebration of Sheffield, not to distance ourselves from the city we were formed in."

Sarah admitted that Tramlines asked the foundation for proof of funds, 'in order to take it seriously', and that worries about the festival's finances were 'unfortunately not a new question'.

"One of the reasons the offering has changed over the years is because we have struggled to find a sustainable model that works. We incur lots of additional overheads by operating across multiple sites, and one of the reasons we have looked at a move is to try and consolidate and not pay those costs."

Winston said Music City was putting together a revised plan, understood to involve an event unconnected to Tramlines. Sarah said this was 'great news'.

"It would be great to see some more collaboration across the city and hopefully some new events throughout the year," she said. "We wish them the best of luck."