New legislation may mean that the traditional on street procession is no longer as straightforward as it might have in in the past.
It is clearly a problem that is likely to impact upon more and more Morris sides, festivals and similar events across the land as both councils and police forces are required to save money. The key point is that the responsibility burden for safety is being placed increasingly on the organisers of these events.
In the light of the information received and discussions held the following is being circulated to member groups on behalf of the JMO:
The Traffic Management Act 2004
Morris Dancing is an ancient pastime, which has been performed safely on our streets for centuries; however, following guidance from the Government, your local police force is unlikely to provide manpower to marshal any event involving closure, blocking or crossing any highway, and sides that have been running events for years are suddenly being asked to provide suitably qualified stewards/marshals. The reason for this is The Traffic Management Act 2004, which clearly states that the responsibility of the safe and efficient passage of traffic (including pedestrians & cyclists etc.) on the highway is the responsibility of the Highways Department of each Local Authority. So whereas the Police "have always done it" it is one of those things that they have recently realised they have never had the power! The Police are increasingly being held to account for what legislation they use and the reasons why they use it both in terms of litigation and proportionality. So nationally, the landscape is changing and locally your Police may have been subject to legal challenge and complaint around their traffic management powers, or lack thereof. The response nationally, is a Police withdrawal from anything covered by the 2004 Act, which covers anything “planned”, rather than an “emergency”.
The JMO is unable to give advice on exactly what to do, but one thing is certain, you will need to start early, at least 12 months in advance; be prepared for a lot of pre-planning and you will be required to complete a risk assessment (RA). The local authority will advise you of the best route etc., but if you have an historic route, your options are limited, and it is likely that you will be required to provide stewards/marshals trained and suitably equipped. Your local authority should be able to give advice. In principle, the event organiser is required to do something to mitigate the risk to people participating in their event. The Police will no longer do that for you and you will have to consult with your local authority, and you will have to be guided by them. You should, of course remind them of the benefit to the town of the event you organise, and the amount of trade you will bring into the town; it will help if you get local councillors on your side. If you have to employ a private firm to steward your event, it is likely to cost at least £1000, so sweet talking your local authority is a must! You may wish to consider confining any large group movements to pedestrianized areas; when you cross roads, do so in relatively small groups, utilising such things as zebra or pelican crossings and avoiding walking in the road. Lawfully, as pedestrians, when you step onto the carriageway you have right of way. But a group of people is effectively a slow moving vehicle and must be surrounded by people in hi-visibility vests when on a highway, which takes us back to the need for trained stewards/marshals! The best advice is talk to your local authority well in advance!
Chris Gigg of Dolphin Morris Men has agreed to share his excellent traffic plan / experience with the Gate to Southall last year – but expects further changes in the future.
The main problem they experienced was in understanding what the Police and the Highways departments wanted. The main points he learned were:
• The Police have no powers to stop traffic and have a plan to stop policing all events except one or two national ones.
• We can all step onto the Queens Highway provided we do so safely.
• Police and Highways want to see an organiser as taking responsibility for the event by carrying out a risk assessment and writing a Traffic Management Plan.
• They want you to walk on the pavement wherever possible.
• They may want a traffic management company to deal with this, but I don't think they can insist.
• They may want marshals to be trained to a nationally recognised standard, but I don't think they can insist.
• In my experience of dealing with the authorities, they can suggest measures to take, you can accept or refuse to carry them out, but they leave you in no uncertain terms who will be to blame if it goes wrong.
• There is usually a fee associated with a road closure (this was waived as ours was a 'Community Event')
• Don't wait for them to contact you, get in touch as early as possible, I mean months ahead. If you don't receive a reply then persist as they will get in touch and pick holes in your plan with only a short time to go.
• In all my dealings I stressed how long we had been doing this, the traditions associated with the day, and mentioned that Press Releases had already been issued.