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Blow for community events in Valley Gardens

Happygate Festival organiser Gary Simmonds. Picture by Adrian Murray. (1801083AM2)
Happygate Festival organiser Gary Simmonds. Picture by Adrian Murray. (1801083AM2)

Community events in the Valley Gardens will no longer be allowed in the peak summer months in a decision blamed on the need to make them cost-effective for both the council and the town’s tourist economy.

As well as only allowing commercial events in Harrogate’s award-winning park between mid-July and mid-September, Harrogate Borough Council is also to introduce a non-refundable, rising application fee of a minimum of £100 for anyone holding an event in the Valley Gardens.
One shocked community event chairman said, after the success of two previous Happygate Festivals, he still hoped to hold it this summer, though on a different date.
But Gary Simmonds said he thought the new rules were a backward step for independent events.
He said: “How can a council be so callous as to forbid community and charitable events in the Valley Gardens that are so rewarding for so many people of all ages in Harrogate during the only months that there is a reasonable chance of fair weather?
“It isn’t just Happygate. What will happen to other events?”
A spokesperson for Harrogate Borough Council said the council still supported community events but its administrative costs for events in the Valley Gardens had risen, partly as a result of the terrorist threat.
It had just set up a new easier-to-use online system for applications for events in the Valley Gardens.
In addition, the council hoped to maximise the revenue potential of commercial events to help pay for frontline services.
The spokesperson said: “We welcome a wide range of community, charity and commercial events across the district each year. These will continue to benefit from no charge for land hire. But, as the landowner, the council has a responsibility to ensure that all events are run safely for the enjoyment of all.
“There has been a considerable increase in the number of requests being received for events and each one needs to be assessed, which is time consuming - especially as we now have to consider a greater level of risk management to reduce vulnerability to terrorism or other threats.
“The time we invest in assessing event organisers’ plans and liaising with emergency services is a genuine cost to the taxpayer.
“The council is looking to build on its enviable reputation for hosting high quality events, and to benefit from the commercial opportunities this attracts.
“The income we receive from these events will help protect valuable front line services, so we need to take a more balanced approach to ensure we have an attractive offer for commercial events - including offering some of the popular holiday periods.”
But Gary Simmonds said he was unhappy at the way the council had handled his requests to repeat the Happygate Festival for the third year and the rule change had taken him by surprise.
The Big Picnic, which takes place on July 1 this year, is expected to be unaffected.
The council’s new online application forms can be accessed at www.harrogate.gov.uk/homepage/144/organising_an_event