TAUNTON Flower Show will be held in the town’s Vivary Park for the last time this summer - ending a 166-year tradition.

Organisers say they are looking for a new venue for 2018 after the council imposed a five-figure fee for the use of the park, which had previously been free.

Taunton Deane Borough Council says it is charging the charity that runs the event to cover the cost or repairing damage caused and to compensate for loss of public access to Vivary.

The show’s financial director, Jim Lewis, announced the decision to move the event, which started in 1851, “with a heavy heart”.

He said: “We are naturally sad to have to contemplate a move from the historic home of the show, which cherishes its status as the oldest event of its kind in Britain, yet still makes a very significant contribution to the local economy and showcases the best of our region’s horticulture, crafts, arts and produce.”

READ MORE: Taunton Flower Show 2016 - video and pictures

Mr Lewis added: “The directors must ask landowners to make contact if they are interested in a partnership with us to identify a suitable site that will enable the jewel in our community’s cultural crown to remain in the town.

“We understand the council’s financial constraints, but it is simply not economic for us to accommodate a five-figure charge within an already tight budget.”

Taunton Flower Show company chairman Adrian Prior-Sankey said organisers were upset that the Deane imposed the charge “without consultation” in January after this year’s charges had been finalised by the event’s committee.

He added: “It’s just not tenable - if we’d had this charge over the past 13 years, we’d be £100,000 short.

"The council has done what two world wars and flooding in 1997 couldn’t do by moving us out of the park. It’s a huge blow.”

A council spokeswoman said charges for open space use were agreed by councillors as part of the budget-setting process.

She added: “The cost charged is to contribute to making good the additional wear and tear caused by the event.

“Paths and surfaces - designed for pedestrians - are used by vehicles in setting up and taking down the show and this takes a heavy toll on the surfaces. Repairs are now needed.

“The charge also makes a contribution for the loss of public access to the park during this time. The funds received are held within the park’s budget for maintenance.”

Somerset County Gazette: Photos from Taunton Flower Show in Vivary Park, August 6 and 7, 2010

She added that the council had offered to discount the cost by 20 per cent for the 15-day use of the park for the show, which takes place on August 4 and 5 this year and that representatives of the council, which “makes a substantial investment in Vivary Park”, briefed show bosses on the charge in January and March. 

The attractions lined up for the 2017 show include a record seven designer gardens, six with experts new to the event.

And the competition and floral tents are being extended to accommodate additional amateur and professional participants.