Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain, Western Section (TF 22)

1.   The continued value of historic travelling fairs

  The value of our historic fairs is immeasurable, they have been a part of the fabric of tradition of our communities for a 1,000 years.

  This country respects and promotes the traditions and values of our many ethnic minorities, but often forgets—or sweeps aside—the traditions of our indigenous population which should be retained for future generations.

  It could be argued that the Fairs of 1,000 years ago bear little resemblance to those of today, but the tradition is still there. You only have to look at the many traditional "Opening" ceremonies that precede the fairs—in the Western Section, Barnstaple springs immediately to mind. It is an historic ceremony relived each year and much treasured.

  Without travelling funfairs visiting our towns and cities this country would be the poorer, they add fun and colour and variety to our way of life.

2.   The provision of sites for travelling fairs

  The provision of sites is, of course, of prime importance. Without suitable and prime sites for the fairs, there would be no fairground industry.

  We are losing prime funfair sites all the time through re-development of City Centres and exorbitant rents being demanded by the local authorities, examples of some of the prime fairs that have been lost in recent years in the Western Section area are:

  Crewkerne Fair; Dowton Street Fair; The Horse Fair, Bristol; Glastonbury Sheep Fair—which has been moved out of town; Warminster; Truro—which again has been moved to an out of town park with no parking facilities; Andover Street Fair; Weyhill; Honiton Penny Fair; Goram, Bristol; Woodbury Hill Fair.

  Fairs are also lost by pressure being exerted on local Councils, often by new citizens moving into town and hoping to rid themselves of any disturbance and local businessmen who resent any disruption in their trading—though it is at most only for a few days a year. This refers to prime town centre sites which are of great importance to our Industry. There was a strong move last year by some shop keepers to remove Salisbury Fair from the Market Square, fortunately there was strong support for the Fair from the local Council and residents alike to retain the fair in its traditional setting as a move to outside of town would have made the Fair unviable—this is just one example.

  Local businessmen do have the opportunity to put pressure on Councils all year round, whereas our members can only do our best to counter these actions when they are known to us and that information is not always received until it is too late.

  Where towns have been encouraged and persuaded to re-open the streets for fairs—where the traffic layout allows—it has often been of benefit and a boost to the town as a whole, good examples of this are the Cardiff fair—and no better example than the highly successful Millenium Fair in "The Mall" The Showmen's Guild would love to see the return of many more street and town centre fairs.

  Other Fairs have been lost through local parks being banned to our members for a variety of reasons and often at the insistence of the local police. If a pub or club has trouble occasionally it does not mean that they are closed down, but it is all too easy to finish a fair, excessive rentals can also be a reason for closure of fairs in parks. Some prime sites have been lost at Bristol Downs, Portsmouth and Southampton.

3.   The particular needs of travelling showpeople in carrying out their trade

  The needs of travelling Showmen are simple and seem obvious to them but often need pointing out to the layman, they need:

    (a)  Sites on which to open and operate

    (b)  Space to accommodate their living wagons whilst operating their equipment—this must be within a reasonable distance as our members have young children to care for and often grandparents too and it is also necessary for the security of their equipment.

    (c)  Water and Electricity and Waste points laid on so that living wagons can be supplied with the necessities of life.

    (d)  Educational facilities—whilst these are in place to a limited degree, the grant has been cut which will make a difficult task more difficult.

4.   The effectiveness of existing planning guidance on the provision of quarters for travelling showpeople.

  The present guidance on the provision of quarters for travelling showpeople is not effective enough. Some areas of the country do not have as big a problem as others, the situation does not seem to be as bad in the north. However, in the South of the country our members are finding it more and more difficult to obtain consent for their sites.

  There are two cases in particular, one is Mr and Mrs Burton at Shedfield, Hants and the other is Mr and Mrs Lock at Norton, Glos. Both of these members have what would be considered by most people—ideal locations for Showmen's quarters, but both families are being hounded off their land by their local Councils and are facing eviction—to where!!

5.   Whether any action is necessary to ensure that appropriate regard is had to the needs of travelling showpeople within the planning system

  Action is necessary to expand the present 22/91 Government Circular as it is often ignored by Councils and as it is open ended, it is often used against Showmen instead of for them. It is often ignored by Councils and the Councils are ignoring the need to make provision in their local plans for the needs of travelling showpeople.

  Also the needs of travelling showmen are changing. There is a need for a change from "Winter Quarters" to "Showmen's Depots". Because of the reduction in Fairs and cancellation of fairs through bad weather conditions etc, and the inappropriateness of parking on lay-bys in this highly mobile age, to await the next fair, there is a need for Showmen to be able to return to their depots during the Summer for odd days and possibly weeks. There is a need also for the elderly to be able to remain on site all year round, they need to remain in a known environment and amongst their families where they are well looked after, they do not need to be re-housed!

6.   Any other matters

  Transport: Because of our specialised vehicles and equipment we do need special consideration and relaxation within the Transport regulations.

February 2000

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