In the Media

Jarrow Crusade tribute at risk over cash for road closures

PUBLISHED September 27, 2011

South Tyneside council insists on ?2,600 fee from youth group planning 75th anniversary march from north-east to London A planned 75th anniversary re-enactment of the Jarrow Crusade may have to be abandoned because the local council in the historic north-east town has said that demonstrators must pay more than ?2,600 to stage their protest. Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ), the organisers of the march from Jarrow to London to recall the 1930s protest over unemployment have condemned Labour-run South Tyneside council for levying a "pay-to-protest" tax in order to close the roads, which will cost ?2,230.20 plus VAT. YFJ national organiser, Paul Callanan, said the council has made him personally liable for the charge. He is refusing to pay, even if it means going to court. Callanan described the bill as an "affront to democracy". The march, which is due to start on 1 October, plans to follow the route of the first "crusade", when in the depths of the depression in 1936, 200 ship workers marched more than 300 miles to London to protest against poverty and unemployment. On Saturday, 500 protesters plan to demonstrate in Jarrow, with 50 youths then planning to walk to London via Leeds, Nottingham, Coventry and Northampton, arriving in the capital a month later on 5 November. The rally at Jarrow will include 17-year-old Lizi Gray whose great grandfather, Michael McLoughlin, was on the original march. Those going all the way to London plan to sleep in church halls and live off food rations and "good will" organisers say. Callanan said that no other council on the dozens of legs of their demonstration ? including Westminster council, where the group will hold a rally in Trafalgar Square ? had asked them for payment and that no one can actually afford the bill. "We are happy to work with the council and the police to make the march as safe as possible. But I've organised a lot of protests before, even bigger than this one coming up and I've not once been asked for money for road closures," Callanan said. "It's an affront to democracy, it's putting a price on the right to protest ... especially given that it is a march of young people, most of whom who are unemployed or students that have been battered by sky high [tuition] fees," he said. "You'd think they [South Tyneside council] would respond more sympathetically ... but they're digging their heels in," he added. The council, which recently spent tens of thousands of pounds taking Twitter to court in California to force the site to hand over information to identify a blogger , has said that the levy is a standard charge applied to all events except Remembrance Sunday and Good Friday, and has been its policy for several years because of budget constraints. A spokesperson for Tyneside council said: "Any outside body that needs a temporary traffic regulation order is required to pay a standard fee of ?,2230.20 excluding VAT ? unless the road is closed by the police under their powers. This has been the council's policy for several years. "The organisers of Youth Fight for Jobs were advised by a multi-agency safety advisory group that in order for 500 people to march in safety through Jarrow a number of road closures are required and they will have to meet the cost." "The council does not have funds to bear the costs of all road closure requests; however, it does support certain annual events including Remembrance parades and Good Friday marches," the spokesperson added. The Local Government Association confirmed that if police did not foot the bill for closing the roads, then local authorities could charge if they chose to. "There is an element of discretion in this," a spokesperson said. "For instance, low-key street parties on residential roads are generally agreed without charge provided the closure will not cause significant disruption to traffic or force a re-route of public transport." Unemployment Youth justice London Shiv Malik © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds