Fee poses dilemma for Watton carnival organisers

ORGANISERS of Watton's popular carnival will be forced to consider moving the festivities from their central High Street spot, or even cancelling them, thanks to a new road closure fee.

It is the latest community event to be affected by the �450 charge which recently came into effect following changes to the way street parties, processions and fairs are policed.

Norfolk Constabulary can no longer arrange informal road closures for the celebrations meaning organisers now have to pay the county council to process a formal application.

As the Watton carnival committee prepares to hold its first meeting of the year ahead of this June's festivities, its chairman said members faced a dilemma.

The event is reliant on local people and businesses donating money to cover costs like bringing in bands for the entertainment and the main stage.

But, if the carnival goes ahead as usual along the High Street, organisers will have to find an additional �450 to pay the legal and advertising costs of a road closure notice.

Carnival chairman Steve Jolly said: 'We've got three options. We stay where we are and try to find the �450, we move it somewhere like the school playing field or sports centre where we don't have to pay, or we don't bother to do it at all.'

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Paying the fee would mean going to local traders and asking for more money. With businesses still struggling following the recent recession, Mr Jolly said he would not feel comfortable asking them to dig even deeper to pay a road closure fee.

He said: 'It's �450 for nothing. It doesn't benefit us in any way.

'If they were giving us �450 to provide free children's rides, or hire a couple of games for the children, that's great, but to say it's for the licence is a waste of the money.'

But the committee chairman, who works as an events co-ordinator, said moving the carnival away from the High Street and the centre of Watton would be 'defeating the object'.

He said: 'People come to it because it's a great community day out in the town. It's one of the few carnivals that are still in the town centre and it benefits all the businesses which stay open.'

Over the past year, Norfolk County Council has had many complaints about the costs and time needed to process the road closure applications.

It has already helped event organisers by combining applications for Christmas light switch-ons and royal wedding street parties.

But today, the council's environment, transport and development overview and scrutiny panel is due to discuss longer-term solutions.

John Birchall, county council spokesman, said: 'Members are very aware of the burden that the �450 can place upon voluntary groups, town councils and so on, and are looking to try to find a way of reducing that cost and making the whole process as simple as possible.

'For now the advice is that members are determined to do something but people will have to bear with us until the exact scheme is agreed.'

Watton Carnival attracts thousands of visitors to the town each year. Local organisations, charities and schools set up stalls to raise money, local bands perform on the main stage and a parade makes its way down the High Street.

Mr Jolly said he hoped the county council would come up with a way to reduce the cost for the many events set to take place across Norfolk this summer.

But in the mean time the committee will organise its first meeting to discuss what they should do about the extra cost.

Anyone able to help meet the cost of the road closure notice should contact Mr Jolly on 01366 727197 or email soundstagesystems@talk21.com