THE future of a traditional village church procession has been plunged into doubt because of police budget cuts.
The historic Whit Walk between St Peter’s Simonstone and St John’s in Read may have to be cancelled over traffic management costs.
Lancashire Constabulary says budget constraints mean policing at all parades and events across the county has now been put under review. Police chiefs told leaders of the popular village procession that traffic management costs and stewarding responsibilities must now be met by event organisers. This would increase costs on already cash-strapped parade organisers and could spell the end for the century-old Lancashire tradition.
John Aizlewood, who organises the walk through Simonstone and Read planned for May 19th, said the news came as a shock.
“In the past the police have assisted us in allowing the traffic through but the response we have back is that they will be unable to help us with that now,” explained Mr Aizlewood.
“The rules have changed. Their budget is not as big as it used to be and they are no longer able to assist us. It is a concern at the moment that it could increase costs.
“Ultimately it could be cancelled if there is any significant cost involved. It would be very sad if that happens. We don’t want the tradition to die out.”
Mr Aizlewood said it was still early days but he is exploring every option including changing the route or even training volunteers to conduct stewarding and traffic management duties.
“We have to file for a road closure and there is no guarantee that would happen,” he said. “It could cost up to £1,000 to shut the road for a time or other traffic management measures.
“Volunteers could be trained up to do some sort of traffic control but that would not be cheap.
“At this stage could we still hold a Whit Walk on the same route? Probably not unless we can find a way of doing the traffic control at very low cost, but the health and safety of people on the walks is primary so we have to look at that.”
Police Inspector Viki Crorken said: “Due to the significant resourcing implications in attending the numerous events and parades held across the area on an annual basis it has become necessary for us to review all occasions where we provide policing services.
“I understand that there has always been a perception and expectation that it is the police’s role to provide resources and manage the events, however this is not the case and it is the responsibility of the event organiser to ensure the safety of those attending and to undertake all stewarding and traffic management requirements.”
Insp. Crorken added: “We are more than happy to continue our engagement with Events Organisers who require guidance on their responsibilities when organising a community event or parade.”
Phil Barrett, director of Lancashire Highway Services, said: “We would want to work with the police to ensure the most appropriate arrangements were put in place to allow occasions such as the Read and Simonstone Whit Sunday Procession to take place.
“There would be financial and other resource implications if the county council was to regulate traffic, and costs would normally be met by event organisers.
“However we’re currently considering the situation, and the potential impact for the county council and event organisers, should the district councils feel that orders under the Town Police Clauses Act without police support are not the appropriate way to control traffic.”