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Concern new event charges will threaten Bristol’s Festival city reputation

Bristol’s city council is introducing new charges for its outdoor festival and events spaces across the city to generate an estimated £175,000.

Concerns have been raised that the move will threaten events and festivals held in Bristol, and that it will result in a backlash. The concerns follow VegFest’s announcement in May that the festival will not return to Bristol due to the 200 per cent increase in rent.

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’.

In a cabinet meeting on Monday (26 June), deputy mayor Estella Tincknell said the balance needs to be between protecting the city’s cultural offerings and generating an income from the outdoor festival and events industry in Bristol.

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.

Speaking at the meeting, Tinckell 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,” added Tinckell.

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.

The International Balloon Fiesta which brings in 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.

Mayor Marvin Rees commented: “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,” said Rees.