ONE of Somerset’s oldest annual events could be in jeopardy after a council voted to ban events being held on its land.

The Tor Fair – also known as the Glastonbury Royal Charter Fair – is the second longest-running fair in Britain and has been in existence for more than 800 years.

But in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Mendip District Council has voted to ban all third-party events on its land until at least April 2021.

While this means regular markets can still operate, events such as the Tor Fair, which usually takes place in September, will not – something the family which organises it believes will be disastrous for its future.

Francesca Stokes, who runs the Tor Fair with her father Henry Chipperfield, wrote to the council ahead of a virtual cabinet meeting on Monday evening (September 7), imploring them to allow this event to continue.

She said: “This fair was given the royal charter by King Henry I, and was originally held at Glastonbury Tor. For hundreds of years the tradition has been able to keep going.

“We have been through a challenging year for everyone, especially the entertainment business, financially and mentally, but we were finally given the go ahead to restart our business back up from the government.

“This has taken a lot of planning and money to do so in a safe manner and we feel we have achieved it.”

Ms Stokes explained how her family had staged a similar fair in August at the French Weir park in Taunton, with additional safety features and crowd control to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

These included a one-way system throughout the site, people being counted in and out to limit numbers, social distancing and hand sanitising on all rides, and a sign-in book to enable track and trace if required.

Ms Stokes said: “It worked outstandingly well, and the public were overwhelmed at the procedures we put in place.

“We were planning to do exactly the same at Glastonbury and also can maintain this even better , as these days it is only a small fair.”

The fair has been held in the St John’s car park in Glastonbury for the last two years.

It was previously staged at Herbies Field near Northload Bridge for 17 years, but had to be moved after heavy rain caused equipment to sink into the ground.

A planning application to improve the condition of the site will be considered by the council’s planning board when it meets virtually on Wednesday evening (September 16).

Ms Stokes added: “My mother, father and I run the fair now. We are saddened that the nearly 900-year-old-charter is in jeopardy, and could be lost with the council’s decision to stop a small event.

“This can safely run with more then what the government guidelines state, with all the appropriate measures in place.

“When other small events locally have been welcomed, it is with a heavy heart to say we have felt prejudice against us.”

Councillor Nick Cottle, portfolio holder for neighbourhood services, said the ban would be reviewed on a monthly basis – and would not prevent the fair from being held on a private site with the precautions Ms Stokes had listed.

He said in his written report: “There have been local coronavirus outbreaks in Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and the Midsomer Norton/ Radstock area.

“The suspension of the hire to third parties of council-owned land will not stop events from taking place on land not owned by the council.

“We are acting on advice from the government and local police, who fear numbers at some events cannot be managed in accordance with government guidelines.”

Councillor Heather Shearer, portfolio holder for community health services, added: “People look to the council to keep things safe.

“I don’t think any of us want to actually stop things from happening, but one of the big issues is about how you can control the numbers of people who come through – and when it’s an unlicensed event, it gets really complicated.

“I like the idea of perhaps finding a way of supporting people who have actually started their events, because to have it cut out from under them is very disappointing.

“This at least gives some certainty for people moving forward at this point.”

Council leader Ros Wyke said the council “had to act on professional advice” and it was not the cabinet’s place to make exceptions for specific events.

She added: “If we get a spike in the middle of all of this, for whatever reason, the finger will be very clearly pointed at the cabinet to say we overrode the professional advice of our officers.

“If an individual event organiser can put forward a strong enough risk mitigation which the professional officers accept, that is a totally different issue.”

The cabinet voted unanimously to approve the ban.