Harpenden is double-booked as circus clashes with Highland Gathering

Marching Band

Marching Band - Credit: Archant

THERE are fears charities could lose out after it was revealed Harpenden has been double-booked to host a circus on the same weekend as the largest Highland Gathering outside Scotland.

Harpenden Lions Club was stunned to learn that visitors to its annual Gathering at Rothamsted Park will have to compete for car parking spaces on Sunday, July 14, as Harpenden town council (HTC) has agreed to a circus being held on the Common that same weekend.

The Gathering draws thousands of visitors to the town and raises tens of thousands of pounds for charity every year.

Bengie Walden, chair of the Highland Gathering committee for the club, explained that the council had agreed to the circus, normally hosted in October, coming three months earlier than usual.

He said with about 10,000 visitors expected on the Sunday, the Scottish-themed event needed about 1,000 car parking spaces in the town. There are 400 spaces at Rothamsted and the club was depending on the Common to provide a further 500 places as in previous years.

Bengie said: “This is a major event. The council has made the wrong decision. We weren’t told about the clash until last Friday. It is the town’s biggest event and the council is jeopardising it. People will get annoyed trying to find a car park and just drive on.

“It is a major problem for us which could threaten the running of the event, and affect the amount of money we raise for charity.”

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Beneficiaries of this year’s Gathering are Parkinson’s UK, Home Start St Albans and club causes.

A spokesman for the town council said that the circus had been asked to visit Harpenden in summer as the Common had been “left in a state” following inclement weather during its autumn performance last year.

With the rain continuing during winter, the council had found it difficult restoring the Common’s surface.

The funfair has been cancelled for the past two years because of similar problems with the weather.

The spokesman said that the circus had just one space available, from July 10-14. He added: “We didn’t plan this to deliberately clash.”

The spokesman has now asked the circus organisers whether they could leave on Saturday night, leaving the Common clear for parking the next day.

He added that the Lions would need a “fall-back plan” anyway as, should it rain that weekend, the Common would not be able to be used for parking.

He went on: “I don’t think it will affect visitor numbers as those who are going to the circus are not likely to be going to the Gathering. Parking will be an issue for the Gathering and the club needs to manage that.”

The spokesman said that the council receives about £5,000 in fees from the circus to host it at the Common. A large bond is also paid to go towards restoring the land after its trucks leave the grounds.

Council representatives will meet with Lions Club members later this week to try and resolve the problem.