A historic Hogmanay bonfire party dating from the 19th Century could be banned, campaigners fear.
Biggar, South Lanarkshire, has hosted the celebrations for more than a century, inspired by the pagan bonfires which were believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck.
Known as ‘burning out the old year’, it is believed to date from before 1836, when records show a town crier walked through the town on December 31 shouting ‘This is the message I have been desired to proclaim, that though London is big, Biggar is bigger’.
Every New Year’s Eve a procession of torches marches up the High Street to a bonfire at the top of the town where a torch is passed to the town’s oldest resident who lights the bonfire to ‘burn out the old and burn in the new’.
During the Second World War locals burned a candle inside a tin at the bonfire site, so as not to attract enemy bombers.
It was cancelled in 2020 as result off the pandemic, but this hiatus was one of only three occasions this has happened in well over a century.
But a campaign has been launched to save the bonfire amid a dispute over the siting of a gas main despite the bonfire taking place on the same site since the 1990s.
South Lanarkshire Council has confirmed that concerns have been raised about the location of the bonfire by a Health and Safety Executive-supported multi-agency Events Safety Advisory Group (ESAG), which has emergency services’ representation.
Concerns have been raised that South Lanarkshire Council will not grant the event a license, citing public safety reasons raised by Scottish Fire and Rescue, Police Scotland and Scottish Gas Networks as the basis.
Mitigation has been in place for years – a substantial ‘sub-base’ in aggregate has lain under the fire and the day before it is lit Scottish Gas Networks carry out a gas leak test.
Organisers say there has been not recorded serious incident ever to have taken place at the bonfire and that year after year it has received “glowing” police reports for being one of the most good spirited and crime-free events to take place at Hogmanay.
Robin McAlpine of a newly launched Save Biggar’s Bonfire campaign said: “Increasingly throughout negotiations it has become clear that there is a serious threat of an end to this historical tradition.
“The community organisers of the fire have done everything they possibly could over months of negotiation to try and resolve these issues amicably and in private. It has proved impossible.
“The community of Biggar is left with no remaining option but to demonstrate to South Lanarkshire Council before the date of that meeting the anger that will result if centuries of the town’s historical tradition is brought to an end.”
It is believed that a final decision will not be made by the council until mid-December.
Lesley Craise, chairman of the Biggar Bonfire Committee, said: “After the incredibly difficult 18 months faced by this town like so many in Scotland and beyond, it is more important than ever that the historical traditions which make this community what it is are supported and facilitated.
“What this community needs this festive season is the chance to be together, to heal and to remind ourselves why the sacrifice of the last year has been worth it.
“What we do not need is to be obstructed.
“If community traditions with the profile of Biggar’s bonfire can be under threat, can any community in Scotland have any confidence that they won’t be next?
“All we are asking is for all the mitigating measures we have been assured were sufficient over the last 30 years to remain sufficient for one further year and then to arrange with Scottish Gas Networks to relocate a gas main they now claim should never have been there in the first place.”
A spokesman for South Lanarkshire Council said ESAG concerns principally relate to the location of a gas supply pipe directly underneath the proposed bonfire and the close proximity of spectators should any issues arise.
The spokesman said: “Any decision will be taken when the application for a temporary public entertainment licence is considered by the council’s licensing committee.
“We understand the desire among many local people for the bonfire to return after being cancelled last year due to the Covid pandemic.
“That is why council officers have been working with the organisers for many weeks in order to ensure public safety is protected, and those extensive efforts will continue in advance of the licensing committee meeting.”
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