A host of outdoor events in St Neots and elsewhere in the district could be cancelled or severely curtailed due to a huge hike in the cost of hiring land owned by the local authority.
Huntindonshire District Council (HDC) has negotiated a new policy, which includes a table of daily charges - ranging from £200-£1,000 - for the use of its parks and open spaces. The proposal was discussed by the district council’s economy and growth committee in February and rubber stamped by its Cabinet on March 17.
Eynesbury town councillor James Corely said the introduction of charges, which came into effect on April 1, which had only just come to his attention, would be “near catastrophic” for some event organisers.
“The financial demands now being made have already resulted in a regular fairground operator declaring they will no longer attend events in the town,” said Cllr Corley.
“The ever-popular band concerts scheduled for the summer season have been reduced in frequency, and the implications for all and any user of our open-air facilities are near catastrophic.”
In a document put before the Cabinet, Alistair Merrick, interim head of operations at HDC, said: “Currently, events in parks and open spaces are agreed then staged outside of any policy framework, with no coherent structure of fees and charges to ensure the council recovers the costs it incurs. There is a need to resolve matters through the adoption of an appropriate policy.”
Cllr Corley said as far as he was aware there had been no consultation with parish and town councils and he had spoken to some groups who had told him they may have to cancel events.
“There has been a steady increase in a variety of events around our town bringing entertainment and celebrations to a wide audience. Few, if any, of these activities generate income or profit and already face financial difficulties in their production. Having to pay fees and bonds for the privilege of using our own public open spaces is iniquity. Once again it appears that St Neots is being treated as a cash cow to keep HDC coffers filled,” he added.
The decision, which will effect events on the Riverside Park, Regatta Meadow, Coneygeare Park and Priory Park in St Neots, was discussed by the town council on June 7.
The plan has angered councillors because it was approved after the town council’s budget for events had been set, and consequently there is no provision for the next financial year.
“The town council has yet to respond to HDC but will demand explanation and justification for the imposition of the new policy. It is highly likely that events will be cut as a result of the policy,” Cllr Corley explained.
Councillor Robin Carter, executive member for Environment, Street Scene and Operations, said: “The purpose of the fees and charges is not to deter community events, but to ensure the council recovers reasonable costs and allow for re-investment in parks and open spaces. The policy was approved by Cabinet, subject to local non-commercial, charitable and community organisations being exempt from the charging scheme.”