ANTI-TERROR measures are set to disrupt Luton’s St Patrick’s Day parade this year, The Irish Post has learned.
Despite a plea from the leader of Luton Borough Council, Bedfordshire Police will not let floats or motorised vehicles pass through the town centre by lowering bollards that cordon off the popular George Street area.
Organisers are now being forced to choose between three options – omitting floats from this year’s celebrations, diverting the parade around the town or driving floats to the town centre before continuing on foot.
Next month’s St Patrick’s Day Parade is the first cultural event to be affected by the new measures, which were put in place in December as part of the British Government’s counter-terrorism strategy.
The bollards are raised daily between 10am and 6pm, but councillors had hoped an exception would be made for St Patrick’s Day, which has passed through the town centre for over a decade.
In a letter seen by The Irish Post, Chief Superintendent of Bedfordshire Police Mike Colborne refused the petition of Hazel Simmons, the leader of Luton Borough Council, to lower the bollards for the parade.
Mr Colborne said: “The overall success of (this) project relies on the robust enforcement of the access control measures put in place and agreed by all partners in the Memo of Understanding.
“To make any allowance to provide vehicle access to non-emergency vehicles, is to undermine the project and invite challenges of the enforcement by other local stakeholders.”
He also said that organisers of cultural events in the town had been made aware of the changes “over the last two years”.
He added: “To make exceptions for one group would risk the unravelling of hard negotiated agreement, as a number of organisations and businesses have already had their ‘special cases’ for access declined in order to preserve the integrity of the scheme.”
A spokesperson for Bedfordshire police added: “The organisers were made aware of this a long time ago and there are options which, even at this point in the planning, are available and can be considered.”
Luton Irish Forum says it has been left “disappointed” by the decision.
A spokesperson said: “We are disappointed to learn that we cannot include vehicles in our parade this year.”
But Noelette Hanley, the Forum’s chief officer, said they have accepted Mr Colbourne’s decision.
Minutes from a meeting of Luton council’s Safety Advisory Group, obtained by The Irish Post, reveal that in September Community Development Services Manager Sandra Hayes warned against the decision to uphold the anti-terror measures for cultural events.
The notes stated: “S Hayes noted if the bollards could not be lowered there would be a major impact on community events and perceptions in Luton and this would be seen in a negative light given some of the protest marches that would still be able to go ahead.”
It is believed that her comments refer to the English Defence League, which was formed in Luton in 2009.
Last May, 3,000 members of the right-wing organisation were contained by 1,500 police officers as they marched through the town. Luton Borough Council declined to explain what Ms Hayes meant by her comments.
What do you think about Bedfordshire Police’s decision? Write to us at the usual address or email niall.osullivan@http://http://irishpost.co.uk