Council to re-examine road closure fees for voluntary groups

March 12, 2018

Newry Mourne and Down District Council is to re-examine its policy of charging road closure fees for voluntary groups organizing fundraising races or road events.

Charities and community groups have already been exempted from charges following an earlier Council decision, however voluntary groups that do not fit into either category still face hefty fees of between £400 and £600 to stage events.  Among suggestions to be discussed at an upcoming meeting of the Regulatory and Technical Services (RTS) Committee is a half price concessionary rate for eligible groups.

Commenting on the issue, SDLP Councillor Pete Byrne praised the efforts of his party colleague, South Down MLA Chris McGrath, for raising the matter with the Council and with the Stormont Executive’s Permanent Secretary.

“A few months ago these events would have been free but now the cost of closing a road for a charity run or fun day can cost £400 for small events and £600 for larger events. It’s incredible that these events which generate small but significant sums for charities and community groups have been penalised in this way,” he said.

“[Mr McGrath] has also made written representations to the Permanent Secretary trying to undo some of what the previous UUP and Sinn Fein Regional Development and Infrastructure Ministers have implemented here, especially in terms of the requirement for all events to have an in-depth Traffic Management Survey which adds further financial burden onto groups.

“Earlier this year, the SDLP lobbied for and secured extra funding for community organised festivals. We will continue to do all in our power to support community organisations who are often, particularly in rural areas like south Armagh, the backbone of our community,” Councillor Byrne added.

The Sinn Fein Group Leader on the Council, Mickey Ruane, says the charges are “impeding the capabilities” of some groups to organise events and he called on the Council to act.

Councillor Ruane explained: “In February a paper was presented to councillors highlighting the changes in legislation which were to commence in September 2017, which meant council would take on responsibility for road closures necessary for sporting, entertainment and community events.

“The recommendation at that time was that a charge of £400 for small events and £600 for larger events would apply. This was absolutely rejected by Sinn Féin.

“At subsequent meetings it was agreed that events being organised by registered community associations and/or registered charities would be free of charge.  To help absorb costs the council set aside £45,000 in the 2017/18 rate.”

However, since the introduction of that policy, councillors feel the existing costs are still prohibitive for many voluntary groups which do not all into the charity or community group category.

Councillor Ruane says a paper is to be presented at the RTS Committee meeting later this month which will propose a 50% reduction of the current charges for events organised by voluntary sector.

“Council staff are looking at a range of ways to reduce costs which may include block advertising for a number of events,” he said and added that any final decision had to balance the financial impact of the new legislation with ensuring that charity, voluntary and community groups are “not impeded from hosting events” that benefit local communities.

“We recognise that the legislation will mean an extra financial burden on the Council thus there has to be a charge to promoters who wish to stage events.  However, we must balance that with ensuring that local community groups and charities are not impeded from organising what many of us see as vital events which promote health, safety and community harmony,” Councillor Ruane said.