Text of an article in the Sidmouth Herald of 18 February 2005, reporting on the town meeting of 11 February.

THE HALL at Sidmouth College cannot be used for dancing during Sidmouth Folk Week because the county fire officer has ruled it doesn't have enough fire exits. The issue came to light during question time at a public meeting to hear the latest plans for the Folk Week from its steering group.

The panel was asked why it had suddenly become unusable when it had been used as a dance venue locally.

Eddie Upton, director of Folk South West, said: "Ray Goodswen, who is organising dance events, is the person affected most and the person who negotiated with Sidmouth College. "Our understanding is that the fire officer decided there were insufficient fire exits and therefore Sidmouth College, I'm told, is no longer licensed for public events, not just for us during folk week."

Paul Slaven, fire services PR officer, said: "Public safety is always the foremost concern for the fire service in every circumstance. Any advice from the fire service has been given in the interests of public safety but we will continue to work with the organisers to reach a satisfactory and safe conclusion.   There are guidelines which must be adhered to for all public events and any decisions will have been made in the light of those guidelines."

The question of licences for different events was picked up by Dr Stephen Wozniak of Sidford. Already criticised for comments made on his website relating to the festival by Gordon Newton, who is organising top folk acts for concerts in an 800-seater marquee on The Ham, Dr Wozniak was interrupted as he began to ask about licences.

"Isn't it a shame that all you can pull upon is the negative? shouted Pete Route of Acoustic Cafe, to loud applause.

Another topic raised by Dr Wozniak was the uncertainty of paying money over for events. He said: "Are there any arrangements in place for refunds of tickets if some things fall flat because, if there were, then this would give a great deal more confidence to a lot of people buying tickets up front as has been done for the dancing? Mr Upton replied: "The event tickets won't go on sale until May when our plans will be much further advanced. "If an individual event fails I don't think there is any doubt that there would have to be a refund."

The subject of bringing as many events into the town centre as possible was also touched on by Dr Wozniak. "Are there any moves to get some of the dancing into marquees in Blackmore Gardens and Church House lawn, both very central venues? "I think it would be fantastic if as much as possible could be moved into the venues of last year."

Both Councillor Tony Reed and Mr Upton said there was not enough money to pay for more marquees this year. Mr Newton said there would be morning slots available at The Ham marquee for Mr Goodswen if he needed them. Questions were also raised about bringing genuine craft stalls to this year's event, the curbing of hawkers bearing no connection with the event, and food outlets on The Ham.

Concluding, Mr Upton said one of the images of the week was its torchlight procession. "That torch, at the end of last year's festival, was in danger of being extinguished. "We've taken that up and it's still alight. We need you to help us keep it alight, not just for 2005 but for 2006 and onwards."

Afterwards he added: 'I hope this meeting laid a lot of ghosts. I've got a feeling this could be one of the best festivals ever."

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