The Rickmansworth Canal Festival has been cancelled until further notice due to complications with asbestos buried underground.

The Rickmansworth Waterways Trust announced today (January 2) it has cut the festival over the cost of managing asbestos material buried underground at the Aquadrome.

The charity said it was first alerted to a "no-dig" policy at the Aquadrome by Three Rivers District Council in May last year, but was allowed to fix stakes for marquees into the ground at the 2023 festival. 

It added that it has now decided to cancel the festival indefinitely after it was told that the restrictions extended to any activity that would pierce the ground surface at a meeting with the council last December.

The Trust said it would cost between £5,000 and £8,000 a day to monitor asbestos levels in the air before and after the festival.

New restrictions would also require the festival's structures to be secured above ground with heavy weights or water barrels at an additional cost and logistical challenge.

The Asbestos Management Plan requires contractors to receive asbestos training, which could pose an extra financial burden for the festival if extended to festival volunteers.

Asbestos cement was deposited at the Aquadrome in the 1920s and 30s to secure the ground after gravel was extracted.

The council said the site is within safe legal limits for breathing but any activity that could expose the buried asbestos, such as digging or fixing stakes, is prohibited.

David Montague, Rickmansworth Waterways Trust chairman and festival director, said: “There’s good will and passion about the festival with many people going above and beyond to make it work, so it has been a big blow to the charity and the community.

“It’s a decision that the trustees thought long and hard about. Unfortunately we are faced with no other option.

“I cannot see a way where the organisation will be able to deliver the event based on the asbestos management plan.” 

The Trust explored the option of holding it nearby in Batchworth, but said it would not be suitable for the large attendance.

The festival was first held in 1993 and has grown year on year according to Montague. Last year, it attracted thousands to the canal's banks for 130 stalls and live music across five stages.

There were also at least 100 different watercraft moored along the towpath up to four wide.

A Three Rivers District Council spokesperson said: “The council has been eager to continue working with the organisers of the Rickmansworth Festival to ensure this popular local event can go ahead, but public safety must always be our first concern. 

“Owing to the known presence of asbestos and the update of our Asbestos Management Plan, the Aquadrome has had to be designated a no dig zone.” 

The council said that while the Aquadrome remains a safe environment for day to day use, extra consideration would be necessary at the festival to ensure that nothing is staked into the ground which could disturb any buried asbestos.

It added that event organisers would need to budget for additional post-event cleaning requirements.

The council believes Rickmansworth Festival could go ahead with the appropriate mitigation and that while it offered advice and additional support, including funding, at the meeting in December, any decisions on the future of the festival remain with the organisers.