Minister refuses to lighten the red tape load over common riding road closures

At Large: Over 350 horses led by Acting Father Grahame Nichol followed by (right) Cornet Michael Davidson ride out across the Marches during the 2011 Hawick Common Riding.  10th June 2011. Picture by JANE BARLOW
At Large: Over 350 horses led by Acting Father Grahame Nichol followed by (right) Cornet Michael Davidson ride out across the Marches during the 2011 Hawick Common Riding. 10th June 2011. Picture by JANE BARLOW

HOPES that Borders common ridings and festivals could be exempt from the costly requirements of legislation covering the organisation of parades in Scotland have been dashed.

And councillors are set to demand that, if it cannot be amended, the law should be changed.

“At the time when we are trying to save money and dealing with huge financial pressures, we could do without the unnecessary costs and needless bureaucracy of this frivolous legislation,” said Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker yesterday.

In June, we revealed that the council’s head of legal services Ian Wilkie had written to Scottish community safety and legal affairs minister Roseanna Cunningham MSP asking for the region’s 22 annual events to be exempt from the notification requirements for processions under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act as amended by the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006.

The amendments were introduced after a review by former Strathclyde chief constable Sir John Orr and were intended to curb disorder at sectarian marches.

The minister was told that the requirement on the council to promote temporary traffic regulation orders (TTROs) for road closures would cost £17,000 next year, including advertising costs of £9,000.

But at their meeting today, councillors will hear that their request has been rejected and that, although Ms Cunningham understands SBC’s concerns about the current position, she “does not consider it appropriate to make an order exempting festivals in the Scottish Borders area from the notification requirements”.

In a letter to Mr Wilkie, Aileen Bishop, head of police powers at the Scottish Government’s safer communities directorate, adds: “There are important reasons why even non-contentious marches and parades need to be planned carefully. An integrated approach by all involved is essential ... It may be useful to discuss experience and practice under the current arrangements with other local authorities dealing with similar events.”

Mr Parker reacted angrily to the news.

“This is very disappointing and I suspect our councillors will now want me to formally make representation to the minister to see what we can do,” he told TheSouthern.

“Our common ridings and festivals do not need TTROs and have operated for decades without such needless bureaucracy. They are an example of best practice and when Sir John Orr conducted his original report, he recommended our common ridings and festivals should be exempt.

“However, some parliamentarians did not take this approach and we are now left having to consider a whole host of bureaucratic procedures which will do nothing to benefit council tax payers in the Borders, but will cost them at least £17,000 a year in needless expense.

“The current arrangements for road closures, using signs and without recourse to statutory orders, has served us well.

“I think our next line of attack will be to see if we can get the legislation changed in some way.”

SBC has agreed that the costs should not be passed on to festival organisers, but TheSouthern understands that a Conservative motion to cut the bill for advertising the TTROs will be tabled today.