Belfast Telegraph

Health and safety concerns behind bid to axe Belfast's St Patrick's Day outdoor gig

 

By Victoria Leonard

Belfast City Council is seeking approval to cancel next year's St Patrick's Day concert at Custom House Square on health and safety grounds.

On Wednesday, the local authority will ask the council's Growth and Regeneration Committee to amend the 2018 celebrations to a parade-only event, despite the popularity of the concert, which has been staged for the past 11 years and regularly draws a crowd of thousands.

The decision will then go to November's full council meeting to be ratified.

This year's concert at Custom House Square was headlined by X Factor runner-up Fleur East, while former Westlife star Brian McFadden took to the stage the previous year.

A report due to be presented to councillors this week advises that the changes "are designed to increase the robustness of health and safety plans attached to the event".

It says that the measures will "assist in reducing significant health and safety concerns that now pose a major risk to the public, contractors and council staff during the St Patrick's Day events".

It states: "Over the last 11 years, both events have been staged to mark the Bank Holiday, with a city centre audience in excess of 20,000.

"However, the capacity to host the concert, at Custom House Square, has become an issue of concern in the last number of years.

"The key is the number of people trying to access the concert site after the parade, with significant congestion and safety issues at the intersection of High Street, Victoria Street and Queen's Square/Custom House Square.

"It is expected that the level of congestion will increase significantly given that the 2018 event will be staged on a Saturday.

"In addition to this, it is notable that after the initial influx, audience numbers tend to fluctuate, particularly depending on the weather."

The council says that it has conducted surveys which "indicate that the best way to improve the St Patrick's Day event would be the upscaling of the parade".

This would see the concert abolished and the traditional parade expanded, with a larger procession assembling in Custom House Square before heading out through the city centre and back again.

The musical element of the day would instead be filled by 'pop-up' musical and street performances, which would take place in the city centre between 11am and 5pm.

The council says that this would promote "a more festival feel throughout the city for the day", and that it expects to increase spending to provide more workshops, performers, props and expenses to allow more community groups to participate.

This would be funded from within the existing event budget.

The report notes that "additional health and safety elements may be required due to ongoing reviews connected to overall security in public spaces in the light of recent terror attacks".

UUP councillor Peter Johnston, who sits on the council's Growth and Regeneration Committee, said that he would be "sad" if the concert was cancelled, but that health and safety advice had to be taken into account.

"I would be quite supportive of the council's plans to cancel the concert in favour of putting on more activities during the day," he said.

"There is always a certain element of anti-social behaviour when you have large numbers of people coming together.

"The pop-up events may not have the quality of the bigger acts who performed at Custom House Square, which is to be regretted, but health and safety comes first."

A City Hall source told the Belfast Telegraph that there had been a feeling that the concert was "mainly for members of the Catholic nationalist community, and Protestants and unionists stayed away".

He stated: "It has been more balanced recently, but these concerts cost quite a lot of money and a lot of people are not happy within the Protestant community."

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