Proposal to lump Ottery St Mary’s famous Tar Barrels with £3,500 clean-up bill comes under fire

Ottery Tar Barrels 2016. Ref sho 45-16TI 1639. Picture: Terry Ife

Ottery Tar Barrels 2016. Ref sho 45-16TI 1639. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Council cut-backs would ‘punish’ tradtion and could be ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’, say detractors

Ottery Tar Barrels. Ref sho 45-16NF 1572. Picture: Nigel Fowler

Ottery Tar Barrels. Ref sho 45-16NF 1572. Picture: Nigel Fowler - Credit: Archant

Proposed council cut-backs that would see organisers of Ottery’s famous Tar Barrels lumped with a £3,500 clean-up bill have come under fire.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) could save £9,000 by charging events - such as the flaming November 5 tradition, local carnivals and Sidmouth FolkWeek - for it to clear the streets afterwards.

Such work is currently done by the authority’s StreetScene team, funded by taxpayers’ cash.

The proposals have been earmarked in a transformation strategy for 2017/18, which lists actions to balance EDDC’s budget.

Ottery Carnival Royalty. Ref sho 44-16TI 1033. Picture: Terry Ife

Ottery Carnival Royalty. Ref sho 44-16TI 1033. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

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Members of the council’s overview and scrutiny committees have recommended the authority does not adopt the idea - as it would ‘penalise’ community groups. Rob Wickham, chairman of the Tar Barrels committee, told the Herald that any such move would put the event, which costs more than £30,000 to put on, under ‘a lot more pressure’.

He added: “Everybody benefits from it - the eateries, the pubs. The community benefits because you have got the scouts, the primary school, Rotary, all these local clubs, groups and charities all benefiting, because these people help us run the event by doing the car parking. Without any of that, they all lose out and it would be devastating.”

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The proposals would also affect Ottery’s popular carnival, which costs up to £7,000 to put on.

Councillor Roger Giles, representative for Ottery and chairman of EDDC’s scrutiny committee, told members the cost could be ‘the straw that breaks the camel’s back’ for the Tar Barrels, which pays huge costs for insurance.

Cllr Giles said: “Why are we seeking to charge organisations which are benefiting the local community and economy? Why are we looking to provide a charge for those services that are provided free?”

He added £9,000 was a small amount for the district council, but would be ‘crippling’ for organisers of events.

Speaking at the meeting, a StreetScene manager said: “These clean-up costs are created solely because of the special event. So our question, with our commercial hat on as an authority, is should we be picking up this clean-up cost because it’s a benefit to the community and the economy, or should we be thinking more commercially and passing some of that cost on to the event organisers?”

Members argued the benefit of the events outweighed the charge and suggested alternative proposals, including charging mobile food sellers to recover part of the cost.

Cllr Peter Faithfull, an Ottery representative, said after the meeting: “The proposal to charge for cleaning after functions such as carnivals and the Tar Barrels would have a major impact on those events. With the high cost of public liability insurance, many of these events that have in the past acted to raise money for communities are now struggling to find the money to keep going. While there is clearly a cost in cleaning up after functions, it should be addressed in a way that reaches the source of the mess.

“To punish the organisers of the event risks losing the event.

“In most towns across East Devon, there are customs and traditions which will be put at risk of being lost and leave the district a drab and dreary place to live. Ottery Tar Barrels acts as a tourist attraction, drawing visitors from around the world and should be supported not penalised.”

The proposals, along with the overview and scrutiny committees’ recommendations that officers go back to the drawing board, will now go to EDDC’s cabinet for debate, before being put before the full council.

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