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Council sock Bettyhill gala with shock bill

By Staff Reporter

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Organisers of a popular north coast gala are being landed with a shock bill from Highland Council amounting to almost half the profits from the event.

The cash-strapped local authority is asking Bettyhill Gala to cough up £459 for the use of a playing field where the festivity has been held for years without charge.

The move has angered the community, who say the field, located next to Farr High School and the North Coast Leisure Centre, has historically been used free by local groups.

Local councillor Linda Munro has labelled the unexpected charge “unnecessary and unreasonable” and is fighting to make the authority change its mind.

She said: “I believe Highland Council has got it wrong on this occasion and I think the £459 bill is unnecessary and unreasonable.

“I have raised this with the appropriate service and I am waiting to hear back from them but on this occasion I cannot support the council’s decision.”

Former Farr High School head teacher Jim A Johnston has also written the authority outlining the “verbal agreement” giving the community access to the fields in perpetuity since the school opened in 1964. But he has received no response.

Organisers notified the council some weeks ago that they would require the land from Thursday to Sunday August 1 to 4 this year.

In a Facebook post the group stated: “For the past 15 years Bettyhill Gala has been held on the school field known as the community field.

“It is so called because it was originally the crofters’ bull park and was given to Highland Council so that they could build Farr School and on the understanding it would be for the use of the community in perpetuity.

“This year however the gala is being charged £459 to use the facility – almost half of our previous year’s profit. The Gala provides all entertainment on the field at no cost to the community.

“We are aware that Highland Council has huge debts but to go back on a long-standing agreement seems very wrong.”

Gala secretary Elizabeth Best told the Northern Times that the committee was “appalled” at the charge.

She said: “The field has been a community field since 1964/5. Why now should the council charge the gala for its use when it was agreed it would always be free to the community.”

Organisers have received substantial support on social media with posts suggesting that the committee refuse to pay the fee.

Janet Mowat posted: We all know how much effort committees go to organising galas and to be hit with something like this!

“Highland Council should really think about this. It is laying it financial problems at the door of communities from whom it hopes to retrieve monies through punitive charges”.

And Katrina Gray pointed out that there had been a substantial input from community groups over the years into improving the field.

“Highland Council never objected when the local boys spent months resurfacing the pitch to the standard that it is at now,” she stated.

Highland council was asked to respond but had not done so by the time the Northern Times went to press.

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