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Calls for lockdown rules rethink as Welsh businesses suffer

Equestrians, businesses and MPs are lobbying for Welsh lockdown restrictions to be eased to allow sport to safely restart.

Outdoor gatherings are currently restricted to 30 people in Wales, but there is frustration over inconsistencies, which allows greater numbers to sit outside pubs but not take part in socially distanced sport.

James Broome, owner of the David Broome Event Centre near Chepstow, has voiced his fears for the industry’s future in Wales.

The venue was preparing to restart British Showjumping (BS) fixtures at the Wales & West Showground in Monmouthshire, including the Welsh Home Pony this week (23 to 28 July).

But Environmental Health in Wales has said shows cannot go ahead following advice received from Monmouthshire County Council.

“To say we, alongside James Broome and his team at Wales and West, are disappointed would be a huge understatement,” said BS chief executive Iain Graham.

“James has been in on going communication with local authority representatives throughout the process so it has therefore come as devastating news to them that they are not now being granted permission to run in July.”

Mr Broome added: “We are continuing to work with the local authority and hope to see a resumption of competition within Monmouthshire in the near future.”

He is working with BS to see if they can find alternative dates for the show.

“It was extremely upsetting news for the entire team here to find out we were not being granted permission to run,” said Mr Broome.

“Since their return from furlough they have all worked tirelessly preparing the showground with all the Covid-19 protocols in place so as to ensure everyone could enjoy a safe environment to compete in, and I am unable to applaud them enough for all their hard work.

“Hopefully it will just be a matter of weeks until we are finally able to open our doors and welcome competitors back through them once again”.

A Monmouthshire County Council spokesman told H&H it is “extremely disappointing not to be able to support the Broome family to run these important events”.

“The family run an outstanding event centre, which we are proud to have in our county and we value the relationship that we have developed over many years. It is a very important part of our local rural economy, supporting many associated small businesses,” said the spokesman.

“It is well documented that Welsh government are taking a more cautious approach than their UK counterparts to managing the return to a functioning economy, and this has had particular consequences for the hospitality, events and tourism businesses across Wales in recent weeks.

“Unfortunately the Welsh government standing guidance just does not permit these events to take place. This is not a decision that has required an interpretation by Monmouthshire County Council; there are clearly stated government rules that have to be complied with.

“Site management at the Broomes’ facility is exceptional and we have little doubt that events will be able to recommence as soon as Welsh Government guidance allows.”

Mr Broome has written to his MP, David Davies, and started an online petition, which has already received more than 4,000 signatures.

He is calling on the government to change the current rule of a 30-person limit to regulations that would allow businesses and clubs to operate outdoor sporting activity in a safe manner with an appropriate risk assessment.

“This legislation must be changed soon,” he said.

“There is a limited number of months in our country where people will want spend the day outside, and if these regulations are not lifted in the next few weeks, there will be no summer left.

“Many people in the equestrian world, such as grooms, vets, farriers, trainers, coaches, livery yard owners and producers, depend on these events to stimulate the equestrian world. We must act soon before the industry collapses.

“The maximum capacity of beer gardens in Wales are set by [each] venue’s risk assessment.

“In contrast, equestrian sport is a non-contact individual activity, with known physical and mental health benefits. Keeping a horse or pony ensures daily physical exercise, usually outdoors, in large spaces. Social distancing at these spacious locations is extremely easy.”

He added the showground covers more than 100 acres so limiting it to 30 people “seems utterly ridiculous”.

“I do not believe that riders attending a horse show in a large outdoor space fits within the definition of a ‘gathering’,” he said.

“What is even more frustrating is that venues like ours in England are now running shows with lots of people. Our customer base, that we have diligently built up in our family business over the past 50 years, are now travelling to England to participate in these events.

“Monmouthshire County Council’s legal advisers have expressed their interpretation of the regulations to state that running with more than 30 people on site is illegal.

“Therefore, as it stands, unless [the council’s] legal advisers change their interpretation, or this legislation is moved in line with the equivalent legislation in England, we are closed down.

“Therefore, not only are we closed down, but there is absolutely no indication that this position will change in the future. Unless we can change one of these things, we will not be able to continue.”

Andrew Davies, shadow minister for health, social and sport, has shared the petition and has also backed calls from the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) for indoor schools to be allowed to reopen.

“The benefits of equine therapy for people with a range of conditions and disabilities are well-documented, and the specific benefits of RDA to its service users are almost beyond measure,” said Mr Davies.

“The mental health and wellbeing of so many people in Wales is being adversely affected by the current ban on the use of indoor riding centres.”

He added he urges the government to “review this as soon as possible, because it can be done in a safe and sensible manner”.

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British Dressage’s regional development officer for Wales, Vanessa Archer, spoke with the Welsh Sports Association yesterday to request further clarity over the outdoor restrictions.

“We hope to get an answer from Welsh government in due course,” she said.

“While I was on furlough leave our chairman Mike Mullis has been lobbying the member of Senedds to draw awareness to the inconsistencies.

“We have had some positive replies with two members of Senedds writing to government or issuing press releases in favour of opening indoor venues. It is still looking like early to middle of August before this restriction is lifted. We are trying to get answers for our sport.”

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