News

Stormont costs Carnival a wheel of fortune

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

New legislation imposed by the current dormant Stormont Executive has resulted in the Cookstown Summer Carnival having to fork out over 800 to close the road for the community parade.

The news comes after the updated legislation came into force last September, giving councils the power to introduce their own administration fees for road closure requests.

Road closures were previously carried out by the Police for free under general policing powers, but provisions to the Act has prompted the Mid-Ulster Council to bring in an administrative cost of 415 for events which are categorised as commercial or large events.

On top of the initial payment of 415, the new law means events are obliged to hire a traffic management company to handle the road closure during the proceedings - which the the Carnival's organisers have told the Courier has cost them an additional 480.

The extra expenditure put this summer's Carnival at risk, but the hard work of the volunteers at The Hub, Cookstown - the charity organisation running the event - means it is running for the second consecutive year despite the dent to its already restricted budget.

The Hub on Burn Road, hosted the inaugural Carnival last year and it was labelled a huge success, with over 6,000 people and 44+ groups attending the event which involved a parade, music, food, rides and merry-making aplenty well into the night.

Carol Doey who voluntarily manages The Hub, spoke exclusively to the Courier about the new charges.

“We had a perfect template for the Carnival - that was a huge success last year - and after meeting with the PSNI and members of our Mid-Ulster Council, it should have been as straightforward as straightforward goes.

“Well...it was, until we were informed about the new law regarding having to pay a licence for closing a road, and hiring a traffic management team to man the barriers etc, which we organised ourselves last year, free of charge."

Last year's Carnival was particularly seen as a triumph for the community due to the multicultural and cross-community presence, with Carol confirming they were able to get qualified marshals to man the festival from a number of organisations, including the GAA, Orange Order, local football clubs and hotel bouncers.

”We hold the community event to try and bring religions and cultures together to help town relations and give people the chance to let their hair down and enjoy themselves.

”But, it now feels like we are being penalised for it," Carol said.

She confirmed this year's charges could lead to the Carnival sacrificing some elements of the event, but is adamant they will surpass last year's incredible effort.

The legislation does however exempt a number of activities which are not listed as 'special events' for the purposes of this Act, these are: public processions (instead are referred to the Parades Commission; motor road races (referred to Transport Legislation Branch); cycle races or trials (referred to Cycling Ulster); road works and streetworks.

The immunity awarded to the aforementioned events have left a bitter taste in the Carnival's organisers mouth, particularly as they are a volunteer group.

“The law is law and I have no notion of breaking it...but I will contest the notion that the motor cycle races, the twelfth of July, the 17th March and the 15th of August are considered non road closures," Carol said.

The Department of Infrastructure (Dfl) were the body behind the proposed Act, and it originally enacted in August 2010. The Order commenced in January 2017, but the provisions did not become operational until the following September.

Despite the absence of a functioning government, as the bill was already passed, the Department had the power to implement the new legislation at their own discretion.

“I want an explanation as to why a charitable organisation like The Hub has to pay these charges. I believe if I have to pay over 800 to the Department of Infrastructure I would like to know what my 800 goes towards.

“If the Department has ran out of money and are genuinely gathering money to fill the potholes on the roads that I drive on, then I will acknowledge that, but our roads are disgusting.

“I will pay the 800, but I think whoever passed that bill in Stormont to rake in more money from charitable groups - and to think that Stormont is no more but the wages are still being paid - should meet with us face to face and explain how they reached that decision," The Hub's manager exclaimed.

A Mid-Ulster Council spokesperson has defended their role in the relevant legislation and insists that councils had little input into the changes.

“The Council is very aware that this new legislation, which was effectively imposed upon us with minimal consultation, may present some significant issues for local event organisers.

“While we cannot change the rules under which we must operate, given these are set out in legislation and associated guidance, we are working with local event organisers to minimise the impact and make the new processes as smooth as possible.

“For example, the legislation requires that road closure applications are advertised in at least one local paper and so the fee structure reflects the cost of advertising, as well as an administrative cost for commercial or large events (totalling 415)."

The Council added that the categories these events fall under, and the four traffic management companies available, are decided and approved by the Department.

“While local councils now administer applications for road closures associated with certain events, the responsibility for approving an application lies with the Department," the Council's spokesperson confirmed.

Carol added that Mid-Ulster Council have been an excellent help throughout her time organising the event, and have agreed to help the Carnival by providing funds from their festival budget.

Cookstown's Summer Carnival will not be the only event affected by the legislation this summer, with the Cookstown Continental Markets also falling under the same price structure, as it is also categorised as a commerical/large event.

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