Rye 1947

Have Health & Regulations Gone Too Far?

By Jim Hollands

The remarkable picture, of Gasson’s War ravaged building at the western end of Cinque Ports Street, was taken just after World War Two. Closer inspection reveals a wartime National Fire Service notice pointing the way to Rye Fire Station. A poster for the first Fun Fair to come to the town after the war can also be seen along with a furniture auction notice. The corner, now know as Bannister’s Corner, has been tidied up and the scars of war long since healed.

By 1947 things were slowly returning to some kind of normality in the town. The Bonfire Society had organised a Rye Fawkes Night in November 1945, less than six months after the cessation of hostilities. By November of 1947 the celebrations were back to their prewar standard and the sound of the Rye Bonfire Society Anthem, sung to the tune of “Sussex by the Sea” echoed around the streets of the town as the procession passed by.

“When we walk along Cinque Ports Street,

Doors and Windows open wide

We know our manners

We collect the tanners

We are respected wherever we go

We are the boys that make most noise

We are the boys who built the Guy

We are the Bonfire Boys.”

Despite the violence of the War years, the sound of noisy fireworks exploding in the streets was common place. A massive burning boat was hauled round the streets with flames so fierce it often scorched the paint off doors in The Mint. It was even accused, probably correctly, of melting the insulation off the phone wires that were suspended across the High Street. ‘Rook scarers’ were common place, the huge unmistakable explosions almost burst the ear drums of anyone standing nearby. These days ‘Health & Safety’ have turned the annual spectacle into a much tamer affair and made it tough for bonfire societies. Higher and higher insurance premiums and possible charges to cover the cost of the extra police required have also made it difficult to carry on.

No Horse for Dr. Syn.

Recently we heard that Dr. Syn will no longer be able to ride a horse in the annual Dymchurch “Day of Syn” procession. Health and Safety regulations means insurance has gone over the top again. The whole Health and Safety issue is now past the joking stage. The fabric of organised annual events put on by town and village committees is under threat. Bonfire celebrations, Christmas events, sports days, carnivals, fetes, charity cycle rides, charity walks even, and all the other traditional events that reflect England’s cultural and competitive elements will soon be wiped off the map by a group of European Government busy bodies who are advancing stricter and more comprehensive instructions every day in the knowledge that if they are challenged they can point to an accident at a similar event somewhere in Europe and give that as a reason to impose ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’ solutions.

The cross street Christmas lighting is a good example. To have kept the lighting system that had been used in Rye since the 40’s (without problems), it would have required fixings easily strong enough to hold up 200′ of catenary wire and lights in a force eight gale. As the zig zag spans in Rye High Street were a maximum of 50′ long the ‘overkill’ safety margin is a good demonstration of the new regulations.

When Rye in Bloom organised a river walk litter pick they were instructed by H & S at Rother District Council to :-

Wear visors or goggles

Wear Thick Gloves

Wear yellow jackets

Wear life Jackets

Use ‘litter pickers’

Have a boat standing by on the river.

No one under 16 to take part

Health and Safety have meddled in such things as headstones and litter picking, but have left the really important safety issues alone. The condition of our roads are becoming a national disgrace. Potholes and poor surfaces cause hundreds of accidents every day, when did you last hear of anybody being killed by a falling headstone or litter picking on a river bank?

It is only sixty three years since the end of World War Two. In that time there have been many sensible safety measures imposed, usually after a major disaster involving new materials, but now the process has gone too far and there have been too many ‘jobs for the boys’ created. ‘Boys who feel they must be seen to be working’ hence so many trivial and unnecessary new regulations.

Being part of the ‘European Community’ has meant taking on new partners and their ideas of rules on safety, some of which they initiate but do not comply with themselves. If you doubt my words just take a peek behind the kitchen curtains of many of the small restaurants in France, Spain or the Canaries. Where are the stainless steel fittings that are so rigorously demanded by H & S inspectors in Britain? No doubt the same lack of control might be found in other European countries I have not visited.

We have come a long way since 1945, there have been amazing electrical inventions and advances in medicine. Unfortunately the American litigation disease has crossed the Atlantic and forced insurance here ever higher. Then Health & Safety came to the fore and the insurance companies rubbed their hands together. Any claimant that had not complied to the letter with H & S rules would not get their claim honoured. This has left the voluntary organisations who promote traditional small town and village events in a cleft stick. They cannot pay to insure for the plethora of possible hazards and are unable to afford the specialised equipment and regulations demanded by Health & Safety.

Where is it all leading to? Is the State ‘molly coddling’ the population too much? Do we really want to see the demise of Rye Fawkes Night, Hastings Old Town Carnival, Lydd Club Day, Hythe Venisian Fete and many more local sporting and community events?

It is not only Health & Safety that meddles with local affairs. A visit to the local council chamber on meeting night reveals strange happenings. At the start of a meeting Councillors are asked to declare ‘personal’ or ‘prejudicial’ interests they have in relation to any of the items being discussed or voted on. This means that the very people who may be best placed to have input on a specific subject have to leave the chamber while those left decide on its fate. Likewise an architect on the Council is not permitted to be part of the planning committee! The man most able to help make the decision is excluded.

The reason for these regulations are to stop any chance of using their position to their own ends, even if it helps everyone in the community.

When we elect our local councillors we do so because we trust them, if they betray that trust they are found out, because they are known to the electorate and are thrown out at the next election. ‘Personal and prejudicial’ is bad news for Rye Town Council. It often leaves the least informed to make decisions on our behalf. The time has come for the ‘rot’ to be taken out of rules and regulations and for common sense to prevail.

From October Rye’s Own 2008