Summit is called as red tape engulfs ridings

Borders Divisional Commander chief Superintendent Graham Sinclair and Deputy Divisional Commander Superintendent Andrew Allan discuss the proposed budget cuts at monday's press conference.
Borders Divisional Commander chief Superintendent Graham Sinclair and Deputy Divisional Commander Superintendent Andrew Allan discuss the proposed budget cuts at monday's press conference.

CAN common ridings and local festivals in the Borders survive under the weight of red tape organisers are having to wade through to comply with Scottish Government legislation?

That is the key question being aired at a high-level summit this week involving senior police officers, Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker and representatives of 10 of the largest community events due to be staged this summer, including representatives from Presenting Coldstream Committee and Duns Summer Festival.

The Borders common riding festivals have been caught up in Scottish Government legislation controlling parade and processions, which was brought in mainly to reduce public disorder at sectarian marches in central Scotland. The result is that the committees that run the local festivals in the Borders have found themselves caught up in red tape that requires risk assessments and applying for temporary traffic regulation orders (TTROs) when roads need to be closed for events.

Last July, Scottish Government community safety and legal affairs minister Roseanna Cunningham said she was sympathetic that the Civic Government (Scotland) Act as amended by the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006, put an additional burden on local committees, but she did not think it appropriate for the Borders events to be exempted.

The cost of implementing the necessary TTROs to accommodate local festivals is likely to be around £17,000 - Coldstream’s costs are expected be around £350 and Duns £310.

Scottish Borders Council has battled hard to try and get the region’s festivals exempted from the legislation but has had to accept the inevitable.

“Our common ridings have operated for decades without such needless bureaucracy,” said SBC convener Councillor David Parker.

“The current arrangements for road closures, using signs and without recourse to statutory orders, has served us well.”

Despite the council elections due in May this year Mr Parker has confirmed that the council will underwrite the cost of this summer’s common ridings and festivals.

He said: “I am confident that any new council elected in May will continue this arrangement and do all we can to help organisers navigate through the morass of red tape and ensure that they do not have to bear the costs explicit in meeting all the new criteria.

“However, there is no doubt that many organisers, who are, after all, volunteers, will find the whole process daunting.

“The fact is we are all having to bow to the inevitable and our finger in the dyke can no longer contain the tide of legislation which must be complied with.”

But a representative of the region’s largest festivals has warned: “While we appreciate the efforts of the council to delay implementation of these measures and we appreciate the forbearance, up to now, of the police in enforcing legislation, there is a genuine fear we will struggle to get volunteers to come forward in the future because the whole thing is just too complicated.

“Even if the council is prepared to cover the cost of all this bureacracy, without volunteers, our festivals simply cannot survive.”

Another common riding secretary said: “This has all been rumbling around in the background and, as far as I’m aware, our event is no further forward over what we have to do.”

Both admitted to trepidation after being invited to the meeting, brokered by Mr Parker, which takes place in the Burgh Chambers, Galashiels, today (Thursday, March 22) and features a presentation by Borders divisional police commander Chief Superintendent Graham Sinclair.

Mr Sinclair’s deputy, Superintendent Andrew Allan, explained: “The need for TTROs is long-established in other parts of Scotland and offers indemnity to local authorities and events organisers.

“It is no longer acceptable to have a few temporary signs and barriers with a policeman directing traffic.

“The police have been in dialogue with organisers since last year so that they can maximise the benefits of TTROs so we hope the meeting will be a major step forward.

“I want to assure the public that the last thing the police want to do is stop centuries-old events which mean so much to the Borders.

“However, we must all work together to ensure that the way they are run addresses the paramount issue of safety for spectators and participants so they may continue for another 100 years.”

The police have drawn up a list of 22 festival dates where traffic orders are considered necessary, including Coldstream’s Flodden Ride on the Thursday of Civic Week in August and the closing day of Reivers Week celebrations in Duns in July. Advertising the proposed temporary road closures will cost £9,092. Other additional costs such as pre-warning signs, barriers and staff costs are expected to be around £7,680.

Presenting Coldstream Committee chairman Jim Leifer is attending the meeting, and is keeping an open mind about the impact on the town’s civic week celebrations.

“We are concerned that it’s going to cost money and it maybe means we have to try and alter some of the parades and keep them off the road but that’s going to be almost impossible,” said Mr Leifer.

Councillor Parker said that the common riding and local festival representatives have all been contacted to update them on the range of support measures that would be put in place by both council and police personnel and also to invite them to today’s meeting.

Arrangements for TTROs are believed to be in place for all festivals except the Galashiels Braw Lads’ Gathering.

Mr Parker added: “I think communications between the various parties could have been better and this has added to the concerns of event organisers.

“However, I am confident everything will be in place for this week and that worries around the issue are capable of being eased.”