The red tape culture that is thwarting plans for royal wedding street parties in Great Britain looks to have prevented a popular Easter procession in northwest London.
In the week that Prime Minister David Cameron urged local councils not to use bureaucratic rules to prevent streets parties celebrating the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29, four churches in Willesden said increased bureaucracy may force the cancellation of their Good Friday march.
Cameron spoke out recently because relatively few parties have been organized to date. Some councils imposing rules requiring licenses, insurance protection and other bits of red tape have been blamed.
Increased red tape also looks to have put an end to a Good Friday procession that had been planned by Willesden Green Baptist Church and its neighbors, New Testament Church of God, St. Andrews Church of England and St. Mary Magdalen Roman Catholic Church.
The churches have organized a Good Friday street march for more than 20 years but had taken a break for the last two.
When they applied to the police in February for permission this time around, they were told things had changed.
The road could not be closed without a traffic order at a cost of more than $3,200 (approximately 2,000 British pounds). Obtaining such an order requires five weeks’ notice.
If the road is not closed, the police said the march can still go ahead – but only on the pavement.
The one-hour march involves singing, banners and the telling of the Easter story, with each of the four churches telling a segment.
With an estimated 500 people set to take part, the churches believe this solution is “impractical” and “dangerous.” They fear they will have to cancel the event, they stated in a letter to officials.
They have the support of local Member of Parliament Sarah Teather, who has also written to Brent Council asking it to intervene.
However, the council says it hadn’t been contacted in time.
Marjorie Greenwood is a deacon and secretary at Willesden Green Baptist.
She said a procession has been held for many years, first with a police escort and later with stewards provided by the churches.
“There were no problems so when we submitted the application to the police in February we thought it was a formality,” she said. “We’ve been doing it for years.”
“But the police told us the law has changed, and it would just have to be on the pavement. We weren’t very happy, so it was decided we would write a letter and protest.”
The letter was sent to a number of council members and Teather, Member of Parliament for Brent Central. She described the pavement-only provision as “impractical” and wrote to the council.
“It is important that the Good Friday procession is allowed to take place on the roads,” she said.
“Brent is a multicultural area. The turnout at the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade shows that many people appreciate the celebrations of cultures other than their own.”
But a Brent Council spokesperson said nothing could now be done. “Brent Council was not contacted about the march until around a week ago.
“There is a strict legal procedure we have to follow to issue a traffic order closing roads so people can march in the highway, which includes advertising and consultation, and this takes about five weeks.
“We are very sorry to say there is now not enough time for us to legally facilitate this march. We have been in touch with organizers and said that if they contact us next year with enough notice, we will be pleased to help them.”
Greenwood, who wrote the letter on behalf of the Easter march planning committee group and the four churches, said, “We just want somebody to give us a definitive answer. Why have we been able to do this in the past? Have we existed in a bubble for 20 years?
“We will probably start planning even earlier next year.”
This article appeared originally in The Baptist Times of Great Britain.