A Royal Victory
My mum talks about how much better things were in the olden days all the time. Apparently kids could wander out of the house on a balmy Saturday morning and not be seen again until dusk, muddied but with a cheeky grin on their faces. Cars didn’t drive too fast, everyone knew their neighbours and you could go out for an evening with 50p in your pocket and come back with change.
She also regularly reminisces about the grand street parties thrown to celebrate anything and everything British. Union flag bunting would be strung from home to home, people would sweep their streets and bring out the trestle tables before laying on a spread of gargantuan proportions and having a good old time having a knees up around the Joanna (excuse the colloquialism there).
How times have changed. In my life I don’t remember a single street party, or even so much as a communal picnic. Streets are made for cars, public events need to be properly staged and run and the slightest problem will result in widespread litigation and a huddle of ‘no-win, no-fee’ lawyers/vultures/parasites on society.
All that looks set to change.
News has started coming out of Downing Street that the street party is set for a comeback. With the Royal Wedding fast approaching, David Cameron has decided that there is nothing like a knees-up (sorry again) to get our chins up, and has gone to town to make sure that people know they are able to do whatever’s needed to bring back the feeling of the good old days.
The Prime Minister looks like he’s aware of some of the reasons people haven’t thrown street parties in the past, and has made it clear that things are going to be a bit different now. He said:
“To those councils that are asking small groups of neighbours for licenses, insurance and other bureaucracy my message is clear: don’t interfere, don’t get in the way, and don’t make problems where there are none. Let people get on and have fun.
“And my message to everyone who wants to have a street party is: I’m having one and I want you to go ahead and have one too.”
And not only that, Eric Pickles has also got in on the act, saying “This is a real opportunity for councils to help local residents from all backgrounds to come together, and reinforce our shared identity and sense of Britishness. Of course we want people to be safe and sound but common sense has to prevail and people should use their rights as citizens and challenge councils if red tape rules are being used against them”. Hard to argue with that really.
Even the Health And Safety Executive have chimed in, with some great facts and tips on organising a safe and fun street party.
Normally we wouldn’t just reprint something sent out to the world, but I think street parties are a lovely idea. They cost council’s nothing, and give local people the chance to come together by themselves and get to know one another. They won’t work everywhere of course and are not for everyone, but if nothing else they are a great way to start changing people’s mindsets about what they can and can’t do, and to cut down on some of the more clipboard happy teams that have sprung up over the years.
With that in mind, here are some of the street party myths that are out there and how they might affect you or your council.
Street party myths
- That the law requires complex forms for a road closure and councils need to sign off every detail. For most small parties in quiet streets, all your council needs to know is where and when the closure will take place so they can plan around this (for example, so emergency services know). And you can organise a street party or ‘Street Meet’ in another space such as a local park without any requirement to fill in council forms. If councils really need more information, they will contact organisers. If councils ask for excessive information, they should be challenged.
- That you need insurance. There is no requirement from central government to have public liability insurance. Many councils do not insist on so you can challenge those who do.
- That you need a food license. Again there is no requirement for this
- The law requires a fee to be charged for a road closure. The Department for Transport has scrapped guidance that was being used by councils as an excuse to charge people wanting to close their road. Many councils will charge nothing for Royal Wedding street parties. If your council is charging, you have every right to challenge them.
- It’s too late to ask for a road closure. Some councils have set deadlines to help them manage their work. But there are no requirements in law so if those deadlines look unreasonable, ask your council to be flexible. You may be able to organise a ‘Street Meet’ – a gathering in a park, driveway or cul-de-sac. Residents should speak to their council about plans and Streets Alive have some excellent guidance on how to do this: www.streetparty.org.uk/residents/street-meet.aspx (external link).
- You need to buy expensive road signs. Some local councils will lend you signs and cones.
- It’s too difficult and confusing. Streets Alive has a great website to help you plan and people can also use DirectGov to access local information and contact details for further advice. (by entering postcode at the DirectGov website).
- You need an entertainment licence. Some councils argue that you need a licence for live entertainment – that’s not the case. The Licensing Act 2003 (external link) explicitly exempts garden fetes “and functions or events of a similar character” from being regarded as the provision of regulated entertainment, provided the proceeds of the event are not used for the purposes of private gain.
If this comes off the way it is hoped, I’ll be partying away and living the stories that I will then bore my children with in 20 or 30 years time. “In my day we could have a street party whenever we wanted, computers needed a screen and there was still people who didn’t appreciate the work of local government”.
Well, maybe not…