Harrow proposal to charge for use of Parks etc

If you are not already aware, Harrow Council is proposing raising a charge for any events held in its parks or on the Highway. So far as Pinner is concerned this could affect the future of events such as the Village Show, the Pantomime Evening, the Summer Band Concerts and even the Annual Remembrance Day service held at the War Memorial in Pinner High Street.
As you may have read in My Pinner News (MPN), in theory there is now a ‘consultation’ process, which was launched in October but was not communicated to the Pinner Association.  We found out about only by chance earlier this month. Since the details were published in MPN the web site reference to the consultation document has now changed to
The Pinner Association has responded to the proposals as follows: 

Response to the Proposed “Events in Harrow” Policy – December 2015

The Pinner Association strongly objects to the Council’s proposal to impose charges for the use of parks, open spaces and streets in Harrow for events organised by charities, voluntary, community and non-profit making organisations.
In section 16 “Partnership working” of the proposed policy it is stated that:

This policy relies on strong partnership working. The council will work with the following key partners in delivering the policy.”

It is therefore very disappointing that we only got to hear of this proposed new policy via a third party, after it had been prepared and when it was already out for consultation. No attempt at liaison was made with The Pinner Association, which being a residents’ association is one of the “key partners” listed in section 16 of the proposed policy. The Pinner Association has been organising the summer band concerts in Pinner Memorial Park for more than 12 years, and we therefore have considerable experience of running a community event in a public park. Other local voluntary organisations, such as Pinner Rotary, have likewise been organising community events for many years. Neither we, nor any other local voluntary organisation that we have contacted, were involved with the preparation of the proposed policy.   Is this an example of the level of “liaison” that we could expect should this policy be enacted?
In section 1, “Introduction” of the proposed policy the Council’s stated aims are as follows.

“The council’s aim is to balance the need to hold events with its obligations to residents, businesses and visitors, ensuring that these activities continue to be regarded by all as safe, lawful, successful and fair. In addition, the council wants to enhance the use of parks and open spaces by supporting community, cultural, charitable and commercial events which in turn provide cultural, social and economic benefits to the borough.”

We consider that the proposed policy will have exactly the opposite effect to this as regards all charity, not-for-profit and community events; many if not all such events would cease to be held, due to the overly onerous charges required to use the public open spaces or adopted highways, to the overly onerous requirements of the required deposits and the excessive time before such an event that a completed application form is required to be submitted to the Council.

Pinner has a strong community spirit and this is to a very large extent the result of the many events held by different local charitable and non-profit making organisations. These include the four band concerts organised and paid for by the Pinner Association, the annual Mayor’s wreath-laying ceremony in the Peace Garden which is attended by local people and 90 children from West Lodge Primary School and is organised by the Pinner Association, and the Pinner Village Show organised by Pinner Rotary, all in Pinner Memorial Park.   In the Pinner streets, we have the Sunday Remembrance Service organised by the United Services Club and the Pinner Association, the St. George’s celebrations organised by Pinner Rotary and local businesses, Pinner Pantomime Evening organised by local businesses together with the Pinner Association and Pinner & Northwood Business Club, and “Carols by Torchlight” and the Good Friday Walk of Witness organised by the Pinner Association of Churches.   In addition, local people organise parties to raise money for local charities in the streets and open spaces.

The additional costs it is proposed to impose on charities and voluntary organisations are excessive and would, in our opinion, mean that most of the events listed above would cease to be organised. For example, The Pinner Association has calculated that, even with the discount for charities, the cost of organising the four free to attend, open air summer band concerts in Pinner Memorial Park as a result of the proposed charges will increase by at least £2,796, i.e. over and above the cost of the bands, etc.:

The band concerts would be classed as “medium” scale events, therefore the charges would be (from document Appendix A3):

Application fee: £660 – reduced by 40% (The Pinner Association is a registered charity) = £396

Hire charge: £1,000 per day for four days (four Sundays) = £4,000 – reduced by 40% = £2,400

Discounted Total: £2,796.

Additionally a deposit of £1,000 per day (with no discount for charities) would be required and would only be returnable if, in the opinion of Harrow Council, no damage had occurred to the venue, no noise or other disturbance had occurred, there was no litter to clear up, etc..   Therefore in addition to the £2,796 booking and hire charges The Pinner Association would need £4,000 available in additional funds in order to hold the band concerts and in the worst case situation the four concerts may cost us £6,796 before we have paid the costs of hiring the bands, etc..

This is a large sum of money and the Pinner Association trustees may consider that it would no longer be a good use of the charity’s funds to continue holding the band concerts, which are free of charge to attend and which we sponsor entirely from our own resources. As the organisers, we know how disappointed those attending would be if the concerts no longer took place. For many of the elderly who attend, the free concerts are a very welcome outing on a summer Sunday afternoon; somewhere local that they can go and be with other people and enjoy the music. And it is not only the elderly, families from all backgrounds come out, many with their picnics, and join in what is a very happy community event.

The terms and conditions of the required minimum time for booking would also create a real problem for the organisers of many community events. It is understood that for parks that do not have a licence for the activities to be undertaken at an event it is necessary to have a 10 week (small event – TEN licence required) or 26 week (medium / large / special events – time limited premises licence required) due to the constraints of the Licensing Act 2003, but these limits need not apply to the parks that are already licenced (listed in section 9 of the proposed policy). In our experience it would be very difficult to have all the arrangements in place to be sufficiently confident to book a venue for a community event 26 weeks in advance when many of the entertainers or other groups involved also work on a voluntary basis and cannot be sure of their availability such a long time ahead.

The required booking fees would be only 50% returnable after an event is booked, or non-returnable if an event has to be cancelled within a month of the booked date. With events planned for the open air it is sometimes inevitable that they must be cancelled due to weather conditions, to comply with health and safety or to preserve the integrity of the site. This could make the decision to spend at least half the cost of the booking fee for an event six months in the future a difficult choice for charity trustees who are responsible for the prudent conduct of the charity’s finances.
The extremely legalistic application document that community groups would be required to complete for medium sized events (events with more than 201 persons attending, a category which many local community events would fall into) will also deter such events being organised.   The requirement for a named applicant to sign this form which informs them that:
“This is a legal document. By completing the ‘application form’ you agree to keep to these terms and conditions. Failure to comply may result in your deposit being held or other action being taken. Action could be taken against you if you break these conditions and you will lose any deposit paid and/or be required to pay a fine.”

will deter many charity and not-for-profit community organisation volunteers from making an application to hold a community event. While we can understand the need to have legally binding agreements with the organisers of large commercial events, using the same type of form for all events with more than 201 persons expected to attend will result in charity trustees and volunteers from community organisations being unwilling to put themselves at risk of legal action and they will therefore refuse to organise any events. The excessive length of time that will be required to complete the detailed forms by forty days before the date of an event, and the need to get two references even for community groups that have been organising successful events for many years, will be another deterrent to the volunteers who previously gave up their time to organise community events.

We do not understand how forcing these events to cease by the imposition of the proposed charges and other onerous conditions will, to quote the Council’s proposed “Events in Harrow” policy (section 1 “Introduction”):
“enhance the use of parks and open spaces by supporting community, cultural, charitable and commercial events which in turn provide cultural, social and economic benefits to the borough.”

We sympathise with the Council’s need to raise revenue, however charging charities and non-profit making groups for holding community events in our parks and streets is likely to be counterproductive. These groups may well not be able to afford the charges, and so will no longer hold the events. Everyone loses. The Council gains no revenue and the community is no longer able to enjoy the events.

In summary, the proposed charges and other new requirements will destroy, not support, community events in parks, open spaces and adopted highways, and they will certainly not enhance the use of parks and open spaces. They will not achieve the stated aim of “Enhancing the borough’s reputation.”, rather they will further diminish the standing of Harrow Council in the opinion of many in the community.

The Pinner Association – Registered Charity 262349                                      December 2015