LYME Regis Town Council has made a u-turn on its plans to ban major events and festivals during the peak season, after being described as “over-bureaucratic”.
The suggestion that festivals should not be held during the school holidays or on Bank Holidays, when the town is already busy, was put forward in June as part of a new events policy.
Members of the Tourism, Community & Publicity Committee originally agreed to the proposal, but said that exceptions would be made for Lifeboat Week, Regatta & Carnival Week and the Fossil Festival, which had historically been held on set dates, as well as the council’s own Community Week.
However, the jazz festival, folk festival and B Sharp’s Busking Festival would be affected, as well as any new events.
Several reasons were given for the proposed restriction on event dates, including too many events distracting from the nature and character of the town and more major events encroaching into the main season when the town “would normally be full”.
The proposal sparked outrage from many event organisers and residents, who took to social media to describe the council as “out of touch”.
When the matter was taken to full council, it was agreed that it needed further consideration and was sent back to be discussed again at last week’s tourism meeting.
Fran Williams, chief executive of youth music charity B Sharp, spoke in the public forum, asking councillors to consult with event organisers before making any policies.
She commented: “We have brought the children of this town to the fore, we have created a positive culture towards young people that the council can be very proud of.
“The Busking Festival is inter-generational, it’s community and it’s fun, everyone looks forward to it. It’s simple to put on, it works, please keep it that way.
“If you’re going to review events and make policies, please consult with us and other event organisers to prevent the risk of organisations and people pitching against one another.
“We don’t have the luxury of having a large infrastructure, lots of money in the bank or a large organisation behind us. We are a small charity, this is a fundraiser and it’s very much about Lyme.
“The Busking Festival is a real opportunity for our town to be proud of our children, their talent, bravery and growing skills. It’s an important opportunity and experience for young people.”
Julie Sheppard, who organises Jazz Jurassica – formerly known as the Jazz & Blues Festival – also called for members to reconsider the events policy, describing it as “overly bureaucratic” and an “over-regulated approach”.
“In our view your proposals are flawed because they try to fix something which isn’t broken. The current arrangements for managing events actually work rather well and require nothing more than tweaking, not a total overhaul,” she said.
“There is simply no evidence that any existing events have caused significant problems on the seafront or intensified visitor pressure on the town.
“We don’t need this overly bureaucratic or over-regulated approach. So, don’t take a sledge hammer to crack a nut.
“We’ve been running a well-organised event without major problems on the seafront for year. So, why is this an issue now?”
Mrs Sheppard said she believed the council’s proposed new approach to events followed the recent Dorset Street Food Festival, which brought traders from outside the town to the seafront on the same weekend as her own jazz festival.
She continued: “For the record, it was your own officials who invited them here and many of the concerns raised by councillors and others relate specifically to that event.
“You should not allow that experience with them to unfairly colour your views about us, and other local events on the seafront. Don’t compound your original mistake by now penalising local organisations for problems they do not and have never caused.”
‘Red tape on steroids’
Mrs Sheppard also questioned whether moving major events to the “shoulder seasons” would work.
She said she had no intention of moving the date of the jazz festival, which had always been held on the late May Bank Holiday, and ticketed events in private venues such as the Marine Theatre would continue to go ahead.
“The only thing you’d kill off is the free community festival on the seafront,” she added.
Mrs Sheppard said she “lost the will to live” while reading the council’s proposed new events policy and procedure, which she described as “red tape on steroids”.
Councillor Richard Doney also expressed concerns about the events policy, saying he could not vote in favour of it after giving it some considerable thought since the previous meeting.
He said there was no actually evidence that major events during the peak season caused the problems that had been suggested, and that the council was “not going to achieve very much” as events could continue in venues and on land not owned by the council.
“We should be helping people and encouraging people to do things,” he added.
“These people volunteer, they’re not making fortunes, they bring prestige to the town and I think they’re worthwhile because they give the town a different flavour.
“We’re just giving out the wrong message if we go along with this.”
Councillor Steve Miller accepted that the council had been “caught out” at the beginning of the season, with problems regarding waste collection and double booking the food festival and jazz festival.
However, he added: “To put in place something that says we are going to ban events is totally and wholly wrong. What we should do and what we’ve always done is look at each event on its merits.”
Councillor John Broom said that the council was not trying to ban events, but to “realign them”.
“I think we have to do something because this year I have had people say to me, ‘there’s always something on, there’s no peace and quiet’. That’s the feedback I’m getting from the ratepayers of Lyme Regis and we should think about our ratepayers as much as we think about holidaymakers,” he added.
The Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Michaela Ellis, said she thought the policy was “over the top” and the council just needed to look at the booking system for events.
Councillor Sean Larcombe said the council should be encouraging people to want to come back to Lyme Regis, especially through events which were “virtually free” in the school holidays.
It was agreed to remove the restriction on dates when major events and festivals can be held from the new events policy, which will now have to be ratified by full council.