New law puts future of Soap Box Derby and other small events in jeopardy

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The future of Tandragee Soap Box Derby and many other small events across Northern Ireland may be in jeopardy due to a change in the law.

Legislation which came into force in January require many events such as some festivals and community events to pay to use our public roads.

Tandragee Soap Box Derby attracts around 8,000 to its family-friendly fun attraction each year and is run on a not-for-profit shoestring.

Organiser Paul Bowbanks said that as well as paying Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council a licence fee of £269, they are now being asked to fork out more than £1,000 to a private firm to put up road signs.

“It is so unreal the cost of traffic management. Why do we need to hire people accredited to the Department of Infrastructure when we have been doing it perfectly well ourselves all these years. Why do we have to do it for our small event when it is not required for events such as the Twelfth? It seems unfair,” he said.

“This year our event on June 16 is going ahead but only because some members of our committee have put their hands in their own pockets to cover the costs. It is so over the top. But the future events are in jeopardy.

“This legislation has clearly not been thought through,” he added. “Community events are in danger of being cancelled due to this change in legislation.”

He also criticised the lack of public consultation and said he had the distinct impression the ‘act amendment was driven by the PSNI as a fund saving exercise and the civil service finding ways to raise funds’.

He described the fees charged by some traffic management companies as ‘over the top’.

“The Tandragee Soapbox Derby has to find a staggering £1,080 extra to employ a contractor to cover this year’s event for something we did ourselves for the last three years.

“Failing to obtain a licence and run an event is a criminal offence,” he added.

“We cannot believe that Stormont agreed to this legislation without knowing what affect it would have, and council officers have been complicit in forming the legislation. It feels like yet again the civil servants are taking the lead on governing the people and are inventing new ways of raising more funds on easy targets.

“Most community events bring the community together and raise thousands of pounds to assist local charities while supporting local outlets.”

Local Ulster Unionist Councillor Jim Speers said: “This is a family friendly event. It is a shame that such an event has been put in jeopardy because of this legislation.”

A Department for Infrastructure spokesperson said: “The Department is currently in the process of authorising companies to place temporary direction signs on a public road for the purpose of holding a special event. As the process is still on-going a full listing is not currently available.

“The use of dedicated temporary traffic management companies means that promoters of events are assured that the correct traffic signs will be placed by someone who has received proper training to do so and carries the appropriate level of insurance. This is intended to safeguard those setting out the signs, the travelling public and those attending the event, given that the event is to take place on a public road. Other companies can be used where they can prove they are competent and are adequately insured.

“The companies involved are all privately run businesses and the prices they charge are a matter for them and their customers.”

An ABC Council spokesperson added: “The council’s current application fee of £269 provides for partial cost recovery. This fee includes the cost of advertisement of an application in a local newspaper as required by legislation.

“The Council made the decision in December 2017 that small community events which meet certain criteria would be excluded completely from the road closures charging scheme in terms of both administrative fees and advertising costs. The main costs which may be incurred as part of this process are not the responsibility of the council. There are specific requirements relating to traffic management plans and, in particular to the provision and placing of legally prescribed signage on roads, which must only be carried out by suitably qualified persons in specialist temporary traffic management companies accredited by DfI.”