Town councillors were divided this week on whether to give funding to Burnham-On-Sea’s Food Festival, with several saying the events should now be self-funding instead.

A £1,800 grant application from the organisers of the twice-yearly festival sparked a heated debate during the council’s Policy and Finance Committee meeting on Monday (April 11th).

Councillors voted on the grant funding bid and were split 4-4 on awarding the funding.

Cllr Janet Keen said that in light of the festival’s popularity in attracting thousands of visitors to the town, “it should now be self-funding.”

And Cllr Andy Brewer added: “The festivals are good events for Burnham – they are now well established, but they include a commercial element. A lot of the traders are commercial businesses who do very well out of these events. As a council we were happy to support the establishment of the Food Festival, but by now it should be standing on its own feet. Now is the time to withdraw support – it should be self-supporting.”

But festival co-organiser Sarah Milner Simonds said the £11,000 cost of holding the events is not met by income alone. “The festivals are held on a not-for-profit basis. They cost a lot to put on each time with venue hire, insurance, road closures and more. These festivals are not commercial events – they are held to help community cohesion, create local jobs and contribute to the town’s vitality. We also have extras like a bursary scheme to help local businesses.”

Cllr Martin Cox said: “I really enjoy the food festivals and am always pleased to see them bringing our town centre alive. There is a lot more to event than just the stalls, with many demonstrations and activities too.”

“While I’m aware that there is friction with some traders because the events are held on bank holiday weekends, I actually think the festivals bring more people into the town on those days.”

Sarah Milner Simonds responded: “We consult with businesses to encourage and help local traders. The events are held around bank holiday times to increase attendance on the day but also to encourage visitors to stay locally for the whole week, not just for the festival.”

But Cllr Peter Burridge-Clayton said: “These are two of the busiest weekends of the year for our traders. We made a polite request to the Festival last year to try and avoid them because it causes issues when our car parks are already full.”

Councillors voted on the grant application and were split 4-4 on awarding the funding. Those who voted against were Cllrs Paul Young, Peter Burridge-Clayton, Andy Brewer and Janet Keen, while those in favour were Cllrs David Hoggarth, Martin Cox, John Parkes and Phil Harvey.

The Chairman, Cllr Mike Facey, had the casting vote and voted in favour of the grant being awarded. He said: “We owe it to the general public to support the festivals, but we do have reservations.”

The committee’s recommendation to award the grant is subject to the agreement of the full Town Council at their next meeting in early May.

Meanwhile, preparations are underway for the Spring Burnham-On-Sea Food and Drink Festival, which is set to be held on Saturday 28th May.