An early sign of problems ahead as Steve Heap becomes more openly critical of what Sidmouth offers, and what the festival gives in return. This is part of the coverage in the Sidmouth Herald of 14 December 2001. Many of Mr Heap's concerns will (apparently) be addressed in 2004 - but is it now too late?


Festival boss claims profiteers are 'killing the golden goose' - and expresses frustration that rules and regulations are flouted by other organisations.

The annual Sidmouth International Festival inquest has been told that the organiser's patience has run out on profiteers in the town who milk the event and do not plough anything back. It has resulted in a rethink of the festival programme with no official events being scheduled for the Esplanade or Market Place, apart from the torchlight procession finale.

Festival director Steve Heap said the event observed numerous rules, regulations and restrictions, only to. see them flouted by other organisations. He said: "I'm sure the council of East Devon would agree this is a frustrating situation that has cost the festival serious financial losses." Examples were a pig roast at the Marlborough Hotel which spread on to the public highway, camping, caravans and motor homes on the cricket and rugby fields, temporary car park signs in streets, traders on The Esplanade, and pubs advertising with billboards in streets well away from their establishments.

He said: "We prefer to work with the local authority and not flout the laws, but in so doing appear to be laughed off the court by those who by their own admission know they can get away with it. "Their action will eventually kill the golden goose."

He said visitors could believe they had seen the festival by driving in, paying the council or sports clubs to park, visiting shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants where prices are inflated and then soaking up the free entertainment on The Esplanade, The Market Square and in the pubs. He continued: "They can 'do' the festival without actually buying a ticket.

"What would be preferable is for the town's profits to make small contributions to the festival's patron's scheme and help us to pay to keep it all in town. Next year the programme will change." He announced performances in 2002 would not be programmed on The Esplanade and in the Market Square.

Another issue rankling with Mr Heap is the way the Ham's owners, Sidmouth Town Council, left the festival to negotiate with South West Water over whether it could be used following the engineering works there, and then charged it 700 to use the site. And he harked back to the previous year when the state of the Ham immediately after SWW's operations rendered it unfit for use. He said: "Witness the fall in income. They blame us for no Ham. They gave no support to get it back and profiteered when we returned at great expense to the festival."

He questioned the value of an arts project brought to the town by the district council for the festival and asks that in future he be consulted so that funds can be better used. Drainage from the Knowle arena, which sometimes sees water ruining craft stall stock, artists' costumes and stage equipment, is also criticised. "The audience, our most important asset, will not tolerate the mud anymore. I do not believe this situation cannot be solved in the 21st century."

Mr Heap ended his report to the district council's international festival advisory group with a plea, saying: "The festival organisers fully recognise the support of district councillors and staff in their formal duties and many in their personal capacity. It is their united and individual voices that are needed to help us convince the town that we are not a rough riding profiteering company that invades the town each year. I would very much appreciate your help in raising the message, spreading the honest story and helping us out of this trap we find ourselves in." "Like my predecessors, John Dowell, Bill Rutter and Nibs Matthews, I have a dedication to and a vision for this glorious and unique event. "It has nothing to do with profit, shareholders or commercialism. It is about cultural heritage, sharing, understanding mutual benefits, education and a belief that the arts are a major contributor to quality of life".


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