Fears for Potty Festival after hitch

RICHARD BATSON It is a festival as colourful as it is eccentrically English - filling seaside streets with jingling bells, clattering sticks and lilting folk music. But a popular Morris dancing weekend looks set to be scaled down this summer due to a camp site hitch sparked by complaining neighbours.

RICHARD BATSON

It is a festival as colourful as it is eccentrically English - filling seaside streets with jingling bells, clattering sticks and lilting folk music.

But a popular Morris dancing weekend looks set to be scaled down this summer due to a camp site hitch sparked by complaining neighbours.

More than 200 dancers flock to Sheringham for the Potty Festival in July. But the 20 groups which normally attend the event from all over the country, may be down to half a dozen locals this year, because of problems with the event's regular campsite.

Around 150 dancers normally use the high school field, but following complaints from people living in nearby Churchill Crescent, the authorities have said only official caravan club rallies can be held there without a special licence or planning permission.

Neighbours have raised issues ranging from noise to traffic, and fear the growing use of the school field as a caravan site could devalue their £300,000 homes.

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One resident, Brian Curley, said: “I enjoy the Potty Festival and am sorry if it has become involved, but there are many caravan sites around here that could be used. We chose to live on the edge of town where it was quiet, not next to a caravan park.”

The move leaves the Potty Festival facing a race against time to find other accommodation for its visiting dancers this year, as well as seeking a longer-term solution to rescue the event which is a major attraction for tourists.

Festival chairman Tony Chadwick, who is also squire of the host Sheringham Lobster Potties side, said people booked their holidays to enjoy the atmosphere of the weekend, which had been running 14 years attracting Morris sides from as far afield as Kent, Leeds, Devon and even Germany.

“We need to find another site within a week, when I have to start contacting the visiting sides,” he added.

Caravan sites were already filling up, and having dancers scattered around a variety of locations did not provide the same atmosphere, and could also make camping prices too expensive.

He admitted that at one stage organisers were going to cancel the festival, which is on July 7-8, but decided to soldier on, even if the campsite problems meant only a handful of local sides turned up.

Local councillor Hilary Nelson, the district cabinet member for tourism, said the festival was unique to the area, and it would be “extremely sad” if the event was curtailed.

In 2003 the Churchill Crescent residents sent a petition against school holiday caravan rallies to North Norfolk District Council, which has recently looked into the issue again, following a resident's complaint to the local government ombudsman about the council's lack of response.

The result was a decision to only allow rallies for groups which, like the Camping and Caravan Club, had a special exemption certificate.

Mr Chadwick said festival organisers were looking into the exemption situation, but assured that festival-goers cleared up litter after the event, a shuttle bus was provided to town to minimise daily traffic, and there had “never been any problems with noise” with anyone wanting to sing and dance on returning to the site, being urged to do it inside the school.

School governors chairman David Brown confirmed that unless the Potties had an exemption certificate they could not use the field.

The rallies were an important income source for the school, raising about £10,000, but it strove to achieve a “question of balance” between the interests of the school, community and local residents.

Anyone who can help with campsite accommodation should contact the Potties on 01263 821514 or 07766 163837.