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Council has no charging policy – Cllr Watton

PICTURE : MAURICE BRADLEY

PUP Councillor Russell Watton is dismayed at Council’s decision to charge for the use of East Strand Car Park for a major event.

Speaking exclusively to Causeway Cost Community, Cllr Watton said: “I am not against charging for the use of Council land, in fact, I think it is a good idea.

“However, we have not charged to hold other headline events at this venue in the past, therefore, until there are clear policy guidelines, and in the interests of equality, we should not be looking to charge at this stage either,” said Cllr. Watton.

Causeway Coast Community has been informed that a major event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Kelly’s Complex was to be held at the beachside East Strand.

The application seems to have split the Council, some thinking the promotors should be charged and others sighting the bigger picture of promoting the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough as an area capable of hosting major entertainment events, and further establishing Portrush as a major tourist destination in Northern Ireland.

What was proposed was a 60-piece classical orchestra as the main headline act, world-renowned DJs, hits covering the past 20 years and live music.

The initial request was discussed at Council’s Land Property Committee where members voted to approve the application as long as it met with an agreement with the R&A who will occupy the East Strand Car Park as their media headquarters during the Open Golf Championship.

Whilst the discussion surrounding the application were held “in committee” Causeway Coast Community spoke to Cllr Cara McShane who told us:

“There was unanimous support from Council to allow the East Strand car park to be used for this three-day outdoor concert. “There is no doubt that Causeway Coast and Glens is the golden egg on this island and many organisations want to maximise the opportunities on our coastline, and this is to be welcomed.

“However, as with film crews and other profit-making ventures, including the many organised outdoor activity events in this area, Council charges to cover the costs of providing support at these events.

“It would be entirely wrong for this Council to pick and choose who they want to charge and which profiting-making events they want to give for free. I am not surprised that the press were not allowed in attendance while this discussion was taking place, as we are leaving ourselves wide open to challenge.

“As custodians of the public purse, I do not think it is right that the ratepayers should pay for costs of set-up and clean-up.

“Organisations making the profit should at the very least – ensure the event is cost neutral to the ratepayer and at no extra burden to an already over-stretched small Events team within the Council.

“This proposed event comes immediately after Portrush hosts one of the largest sporting occasions in the world, the Open Golf.

“That, in turn, will be bookended by the Airwaves Show at a cost of almost £300K to the ratepayers.

“Portrush will effectively be in lock-down for a large chunk of the summer season, while residents of the area will again be denied the use of prime public amenity space. Proposing that the costs for hosting large events are not left at the door of the ratepayer, in my view is just and reasonable.

Councillor Watton and Councillor McShane both agree the event would be a major boost forth area. However, where they agree to disagree is on charges in the absence of policy guidelines.

Causeway Coast Community contacted Kelly’s who confirmed their interest but declined to give any further details at the time of publishing.

Commenting on the proposed charge UUP Alderman Norman Hillis said that he personally felt the event should be cost neutral to the Council.

‘It seems strange that we do not charge the R & A for the car park, do not charge the North West 200 organisers for land use or indeed the Super Cup for council facilities and suddenly want to charge Lush/ Kelly’s for bringing a Large event to Portrush.

The ratepayers should not be at a loss but in the absence of land use charging policy, council should not deter potential suitable big events coming to our resort towns.’

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