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

Memorandum by J J Williams, Chairman, The Showman's Guild of Great Britain, Midland Section (TF 30)


  The Midland Section of the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain is responsible for the administration of the Guild's affairs within the boundaries of the historical counties of Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire.

  In common with the other nine Sections of the Guild, a major problem for travelling showmen in this Section is the lack of long-term security in the use of fairground sites.

  With no sites under the direct control of our members, all have to be taken by arrangement with a landlord—in most cases the local authority.

  In some instances these sites may be the subject of an agreement extending over a period of years. But even where such arrangements exist there have been examples of the local authority varying or even ending them during the duration of the agreement, more often than not on an unilateral basis.

  In recent years we have experienced examples where sites with long and consistent histories of use by travelling fairs, have been threatened with development or lost completely.

  One site in the Black Country, a public park where a summer fair had taken place regularly for more than 30 years, suddenly became no longer available. The exact reason for its withdrawal was unclear, but it was suggested that it was through the intervention of one local ward councillor. The ban was enforced despite the recommendations of officers that its use as a fairground be continued.

  Another site in our area, a public recreation ground that had been the site of three annual fairs since around 1911, was threatened with development by the local authority—even though there was a covenant restricting the use of land to an open space or public recreation ground. Fortunately, the site has been saved through a combination of local opposition and the electoral defeat of the group proposing the development.

  The uncertainty over the long-term use of sites has a negative effect on the showman's ability to plan ahead and make investments in the future of his business.

  These investments might include not only new equipment but also the site itself. Given security of tenure the showman would wish to enhance the facilities there; eg contributing to improved access to the site and the provision of mains supplies.

  Similarly, with a long-term commitment in place, the local authority might be encouraged to invest in the site and, thus, make it available for other revenue-earning events.

  Where an established fairground site is to be lost to development, little or no recognition is given to the need for its replacement. If it is accepted, as we would submit, that a travelling fair serves a useful social purpose then it should be policy for the developer/local authority to consult with the showmen affected by its loss, in order to seek an alternative site.

February 2000

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