The cash-strapped city council is introducing new charges for its outdoor festival and events spaces across Bristol in a bid to generate an estimated £157,000.
Concerns have been raised that the move will threaten the future of community gatherings and result in a backlash, with fears that more national organisers might follow VegFest in pulling out of the city after a hike in costs.
Addressing a cabinet meeting on Monday, deputy mayor Estella Tincknell, said a balance needs to be struck between protecting Bristol’s cultural offerings and generating income from the outdoor festivals and events that the city has gained a reputation for.
The new structure will see a move from an ‘event-based’ price, to set site costs and includes a 50 per cent discount on rates for events classified as ‘community’ rather than ‘commercial’.
Tincknell assured councillors the prices have been bench-marked against other cores cities across the country and outlined at estimated boost in site permissions income from £283,000 per year, to around £400,000.
Lib Dem Anthony Negus raised doubts over whether the new charges will achieve the expected results and called it a flawed solution.
Speaking at the meeting, he said: “We support the need for Bristol City Council to raise money, but we are also very aware of the tremendous reputation that Bristol has for its events.
“I’m very aware of the impact new changes will have on local things like the Cotham Hill Street Party and the Redland May Fair. The Redland May Fair in particular has, for many years, been bringing income back into the city.
“They are very fearful. They run the risk now of being priced out and that’s very worrying.
“As important is the loss of reputation in Bristol. We have already had VegFest leave us. I’m very concerned about the effect this will have on Bristol as a venue, as a city and its reputation.”
He added that it’s important to make money from the businesses, largely hospitality venues that benefit from increased footfall.
Tincknell said the plans have tried to be very mindful of community events.
The new structure includes a clause that offers a discretionary discount of up to 100 per cent on the hire fee for organisers who can demonstrate they will bring significant benefit to local people and communities, while minimising any negative impacts.
It was also confirmed that the International Balloon Fiesta, which is credited with bringing huge cultural and economic benefits to Bristol and historically has the use of Ashton Court Estate free of charge, will be subject to the new fees in future.
Mayor Marvin Rees said: “It’s such a massive challenge with our budget because none of our decisions exist in abstract. We have already been making the case to government to say what we need is investment, not disinvestment.
“I believe that culture is vital for the Bristol economy, but where does that money land? Also, if we are all saying that culture is important to the city and its economy, it should not just be down to the council to pay for it.”
Main photo credit: Paul Box.
Read more: VegFest not set to return to Bristol in 2018