A BID to bring back much-missed events such as Bangor’s Easter Parade and Donaghadee’s fireworks festival has been scrapped.
Last month an Ards and North Down Council committee voted to examine ways of bringing both events, as well as Groomsport’s Music Festival, back into being.
But last week the full council overturned that decision, to stick with existing strategies aimed at running events that will hook in people from outside the borough.
The events were ditched when the council changed its tourism funding priorities.
Although very popular, the vast majority of the crowds who came to enjoy the council-run festivities lived in the towns and villages that staged the events.
A few years ago, the local authority shifted its priorities towards funding tourism events, i.e. ones likely to bring in crowds from outside the borough who would spend money in the local economy.
But that meant festivals that were only really attended by area residents didn’t qualify.
Community groups should stage the likes of the Groomsport and Donaghadee festivals instead, officials said – but in part due to the cost of putting them on and complexity of running them, small local groups felt unable to do so.
In the eyes of most festival fans, the council had axed the events.
Last month the local authority’s Place and Prosperity Committee agreed to launch a bid to bring them back – but at a meeting last Wednesday night, the full council scrapped that bid.
Indeed, despite seven councillors voting in favour of the bid at the committee stage, only four backed it at the full council meeting.
And 30 politicians voted in favour of ditching it.
Leading the charge against was the UUP’s group leader, alderman Philip Smith, who felt that the bid amounted to an attempt to unpick the tourism-focused events strategy.
That strategy, he pointed out, is a relatively new one that had been put together at great time and expense, yet had already proved to be ‘working and working well’.
“I understand if there have been events in the past, [councillors] with their local hat on may want to reintroduce them,” said Mr Smith, “but we have ways and means of doing that.
“Part of the strategy was to encourage community groups to undertake these events, and bid to the council for funding via the Communities Festival Fund.
“The sort of events we’re talking about here, essentially gigs and fireworks, can be put on by community groups. When communities are making those efforts, other events can be run by the council without community involvement.
“We maybe need to promote [the festivals fund] more and work with groups to give them the confidence to step forward and take on these events, but there is a model there and it is our strategy.”
Mr Smith’s party colleague, councillor Richard Smart, said he had sympathy for people who missed the popular events, but stated that the tourism-focused model had been chosen to make sure that the council’s investments are paying off.
He also cautioned against ‘making and re-making a decision within such a short time’ and ‘reviving specific events without trying to take a more holistic view’ of whether or not they’d work for the whole borough.
Arguing in favour of the bid, DUP councillor Alistair Cathcart pointed out that Bangor’s Easter Parade dwindled over the years and was replaced by different council-run events, but those replacements have now vanished as well.
“Businesses there feel the need to have an Easter event,” he said. “They’re willing to work with the council, to look for external funding, but in Bangor footfall is a serious concern. This is just bringing back a report, I don’t think there’s any harm in it.”
He was backed by independent councillor Wesley Irvine, who stated that the likes of Bangor’s Chamber of Commerce, who partnered in the Easter celebrations, wouldn’t have the time or ability to stage a massive city centre event by themselves.
“They aren’t event organisers,” he said. “As much as they like to help out on the day, they don’t have that specific training and they all have their own businesses to run.”
However, Alliance councillor Chris McCracken argued that the bid was being launched at the wrong time, as the council needs to ‘defend what we have’ at a time of massive cuts to tourism grants across Northern Ireland.
And DUP alderman Stephen McIlveen stated that the bid amounted to an attempt ‘to pick and choose things we like, trying to squeeze them back in’, which he felt could ‘open the floodgates’ for other councillors to get events in their districts funded, even when they go against the council’s strategy.