Somerset

Harlequin Carnival Club must move home after sell-off

Harlequin Carnival Club by Jeremy Mitchell
Image caption Members of Harlequin Carnival Club have just 12 months to find a new home

A Somerset carnival club is being forced to move home as a result of the county council's farm sell-off programme.

Harlequin Carnival Club build their cart in a shed on a county-owned farm near Ilminster, but members have been told that it will be sold next year.

Somerset County Council wants to sell more than half of its 62 farms, totalling £40m, in a bid to save money.

The Harlequin Carnival Club is the oldest carnival club in Ilminster.

Somerset's carnivals have been going for hundreds of years and involve large illuminated processions in various locations including Bridgwater, Ilminster, Taunton, Weston-Super-Mare and Yeovil.

Bridgwater carnival regularly attracts crowds of 150,000 people.

The carnival carts are designed and built by dedicated carnival clubs, which raise money throughout the year.

Harlequin Carnival Club Chairman Steve Dawe said it is the fifth time in the club's 35 year history that they have had to move home.

"As we understand it we've got about 12 months, possibly a little bit longer, before we'll have to move.

"We're currently looking for a new home [from] a friendly farmer - a corner of a field - something that maybe we can buy or rent.

"Who knows at the moment.

"It's not a desperate situation yet but certainly if we wish to continue to build what we have done for the last nearly 40 years, we're looking for a new home."

'Tough decisions'

The Conservative-run Somerset County Council has said it needs to sell some of its County Farm Estate to pay back some of its £400m debt.

A formal decision on 18 October 2010 identified 33 farms as "surplus to the county council's requirements" and will be sold with first option to current tenants.

Another 26 farms are due to be retained by the council.

Talking about the sell-off, Councillor David Huxtable, cabinet member for resources, said: "It has been a long and difficult process, but tough times have forced tough decisions.

"We have listened to the views and concerns of the farmers, and have had to balance this with the savings that have to be made."

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