Updated: Tuesday, 17th September 2019 @ 4:52pm

Did Manchester City Council and Pride act outside the law over Gay Village access during Big Weekend?

Did Manchester City Council and Pride act outside the law over Gay Village access during Big Weekend?

| By Josh Willacy – MM exclusive

Manchester City Council were acting outside the law when they denied access to Canal Street during Pride – according to a government letter they received ahead of the Big Weekend.

In the week running up to Pride, Manchester City Council applied to the Department for Transport for a traffic restraining order (TRO) to restrict access to the streets around the Gay Village during the four days of The Big Weekend.

Both Pride and the council were warned that they must allow access to premises in the area  even for those without paid-for wristbands.

Yet video footage emerged followed the parade showing Pride protesters clearly not being allowed to enter the restricted zone as they didn't have wristbands.

A Department for Transport letter, written in response to an enquiry by protest group Facts About Manchester Pride and then forwarded on to Pride and the council, clearly stated that it is not within the council’s jurisdiction to restrict people from walking down the street.

The letter from Victoria Pointer at the Department for Transport said: “This legislative requirement is not ambiguous. It means pedestrians wishing to access premise that can only be accessed from the restricted roads must be given access to those roads.”

The letter agreed that restrictions could be made on safety grounds  but this would see ANYONE barred from the street and explicitly stated that a 'two-tier' system using wristbands would be outside of the act's parameters. 

"The third party organiser officials are required to allow pedestrians to enter the 'restricted area' to enter premises that can only be accessed from those roads," it read.

Some protesters claimed that since not every venue required a wristband to enter, they should have been allowed to walk in.

Meanwhile, some protesters were allowed in over the weekend, making their way to venues such as Napoleons, who did not always enforce wristbands for entry. Others were held up at the gates and told to leave.

Lankyskin Smith, who claims to have been let into the festival on 'right of way' grounds without a pass, said: "I've walked in a couple of times with no grief, but that was luck, coupled with confidence.

"But last night we got a police escort in, to ensure our safety and were then left alone. I've witnessed others denied entry, though I didn't intervene because I didn't feel their intentions were genuine..."

 

Mark Fletcher, Chief Executive of Manchester Pride, confirmed that the traffic order was granted.

He said: “We can verify that consent for a traffic order was granted – just as in previous years when the order has been in place – and it enables access to the event for those with a wrist band, accreditation or resident and visitor pass.“

With thousands of people walking through the village over the weekend, security was on high alert, made even more stringent by those attempting to access their right of way.

Campaigners have been fighting tooth and nail in an attempt to restrict the order and to protest by making their way into the Village, without paying.

A judicial review is in the pipeline, though it will likely do little to resolve the ongoing tension between Pride, Manchester City Council, the VBA and the protest group, Facts about Manchester Pride (FAMP).

Geoff Stafford, co-founder of FAMP, said: “We publicised the right of way issue last autumn and details came from the City Council in a letter. So all concerned had ten months in which to decide what to do.

“The Council, Police, Pride and security guards can't pick and choose who the law applies to. The law is what it is.

“They can't selectively allow access to the pavements to wristband holders or even Facts members while blocking others.

“There's a legal right of way for every member of the public. And there has been that right every year.”

Some have attacked FAMP for the vicious personal attacks that some members have launched on individuals within the community.

Tensions have even been frayed within the group with people leaving FAMP as they believe their latest actions is making them more of a nuisance or disruptive group rather than a force for change.

Geoff said: “We believe the council the security and Pride have acted unlawfully by restricting right of way.

“Many of us older folk, we remember 1989 when you would walk into the Rembrandt and see someone that you knew was going to die within a few months because they were really thin because of AIDS, we started this event to raise money for these people who ended up in the Monsall Hospital.

“We’ve seen it go from that to a million pound pop concert where less money goes to charity now than it did 20 years ago, and that’s why people feel so strongly about this.”

General Manager of VIA bar Tony Cooper told MM: "I’m proud of Pride, it has had some issues but we have worked hard to resolve them, but you can’t put on such a big event on without costs.

“Almost every Pride these days is formulated on a similar model. If people want to do something different then do it.

“The Village businesses support things like The Village People Weekend earlier this year, and Sparkle.”

He added: “The fact of the matter is 30,000 people came this weekend, many of whom come every year. They had an incredible time, showed their support for Pride and were proudly wearing their wristbands, and I think that speaks volumes.”

Given the success of Pride, all eyes will be on the organisers to deliver a fair and considerable amount to charities.

Last year, £36,000 was divided between nine charities after more than £700,000 was made from ticket sales.

In contrast, this year's Brighton Pride took £64,570 by ring-fencing £1 from all the festival wristbands sold, and through fundraising at the event.

Despite several attempts by MM to reach out to Manchester City Council to give them an opportunity to provide a statement on the contents on the Department of Transport letter, they have declined to comment.

Ahead of the pride celebrations Councillor Pat Karney, Manchester City Council’s city centre spokesman said: “Manchester Pride is one of the most important events in the Manchester calendar, attracting thousands of people to our city every year as they are brought together to enjoy the festival’s spirit.

"I have offered to facilitate a meeting between the protestors and the Pride board, and I think the protestors should drop this pointless publicity stunt to ensure that Pride continues to be a hugely successful event."

A judicial review has now been launched  into the decisions made around access to the celebrations over the Big Weekend.

Image courtesy of salfordguy69, via YouTube, with thanks.