Towcester news: Festival faces health and safety threat

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HIGHWAYS Agency officials whose safety ruling could force an end to Towcester’s Market Square events, faced the fury of town residents this week.

Every year the Market Square hosts two open air events, one in June to launch the Mid Summer Music Festival, and the winter Carol Service.

Last year a fresh health and safety assessment on the events resulted in five workmen having to travel from Cumbria for the music festival launch to put up pedestrian fencing and 18 water filled bollards to ensure cars and lorries did not plough into the crowds. The bollards had to be filled with 1,800 gallons of water and the whole scheme cost around £4,000.

The HA paid for the barriers on that occasion because of the short notice given to festival organisers Towcester Lions, Rotarians and Centurions. But without the funds to pay for their own barriers Towcester Churches Together which organises the carols had to move the service into the Town Hall – a fate which could now befall all the Market Square events.

During Towcester Town Council’s annual meeting on Monday evening town residents and members of local authorities asked HA representatives why the extra measures were necessary when the carol service had taken place without incident for 15 years and the music festival for eight years.

Leo Jones of Watling Street said: “The residents of this town, and every town in the country, are getting sick and tired of over zealous health and safety regulations and it has got to stop.”

Peter Allen, a member of Towcester Town Council said: “Health and safety is a very important subject and unfortunately in this country it is now treated like a bit of a joke by the general population, and this sort of thing is the reason it is treated like a joke.”

Town councillor and HGV driver Charles Stanger said the Market Square is a focal point for the town and that community events should be allowed to go ahead unhindered.

But Stephen Parker, HA emergency planning officer cited accidents at events which had gone ahead safely for years. He also said the risk assessment looked at the likelihood of an accident and its impact, and that the impact of a lorry entering a crowd was too large to ignore.

Towcester Mayor Jacqueline Hart said the organisers had always followed the correct procedures and asked the HA officials to find out what had changed last year to warrant the extra measures. She also asked for a second risk assessment on the Market Square during a normal day to use as a bench mark against which the community events could be judged.