Soaring licence rates leave city gala days at risk

As the city's largest event, Corstorphine Fair attracts around 20,000 visitors but could face fees of �7000

As the city's largest event, Corstorphine Fair attracts around 20,000 visitors but could face fees of �7000

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CRIPPLING price hikes are threatening the future of community festivals across Edinburgh, organisers have warned.

Gala chiefs insist that soaring licensing rates – which could see fees leap from a nominal £200 to £5000 – may jeopardise the Capital’s 17 fetes held annually in close-knit towns and village.

They also face new road closure charges equal to what the council spends on diversions and traffic management.

It means that the Corstorphine Fair – the Capital’s largest gala with gates tipping 20,000 – would see its base costs rocket from around £200 to a staggering £7000.

Today, gala organisers said “uncertainty” created by the high fees – which can be reduced on appeal – could sound the death knell for some community festivals.

Ewan Irvine, a board member at Corstorphine community council, said: “We may have to re-look at whether the fair could run in future years.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty because even if we are granted a reduction on appeal we are trying to organise the fair and still don’t know what that fee will be.

“We are going to have to pay for road closures and perhaps a lot more for an entertainments licence – that’s £7000 before we even get started. We could maybe manage it this year but not for future fairs. If red tape and bills continue go up and up then we would come to the point of view that we would have to cease.”

He added: “These are changes introduced by the council but I’m not clear why.”

Cash-strapped council bosses overhauled costs for public entertainment licences last year in a bid to draw more money from large-scale festival organisers amid claims they avoided heavy levies by masquerading as “community” events. But the steep price hike now applies to all events with gates greater than 500, ensnaring most of the city’s community galas.

Investigations by the News have revealed Midlothian and East Lothian councils charge residents no more than £100 to host gala days.

Defending their bunting-bursting hike, Edinburgh licensing chiefs say gala organisers can appeal to committee for fee waivers and reductions.

However, there is no guarantee an appeal would work – and many fete organisers say the process is so labyrinthine they fear many might opt just not to bother.

Karen Keil, who ran Clermiston & Drumbrae Children’s Gala for 15 years before being elected as the district councillor, said she would welcome a change in policy to exempt community galas from exorbitant charges. “It’s a shame gala days have not been considered a separate entity,” she said.

Green Finance convener Cllr Gavin Corbett said it was “crazy” to introduce a system making community events “unaffordable”. The last thing we want is much-loved community events cancelled because of over-zealous fees,” he said.

Cllr Gavin Barrie, convener of the regulatory committee, which imposed the new charges, said a lot of work goes on behind the scenes to ensure events go ahead safely and that visitors will be protected so that they can enjoy their day.

He said: “Events at which a large number of people are expected to attend have to have the safety aspects managed. However, we regularly advise applicants how to submit requests to the licensing sub committee for fee waivers and fee reductions and the fee is not intended to be a barrier to organisations which want to hold events.”