COUNCILLORS have delayed controversial proposals to charge community groups to hold galas and processions.
Officers had suggested asking organisations to cover the costs of any parades which would involve a temporary road closure, commonplace for gala days, fetes and sporting events.
This comes after Police Scotland gave up responsibility for traffic control, except for emergencies or crime scenes, leaving responsibility for public safety with Highland Council.
Now the cash-strapped local authority has suggested that those who request the closure should pay for a temporary traffic order and the administration costs involved, including an inspection before the event if necessary which could cost anything between £60 and £3375.
At the environment, development and infrastructure committee last week, councillors agreed to defer the decision until organisations can be consulted, saying there is not enough information about who will be affected.
It was only to be for a 12-month trial period but Culloden and Ardersier councillor Roddy Balfour suggested it may be seen as an attempt to stop events from going ahead and may result in a human rights issue.
He said: "It’s an ancient right in common law to assemble. I think we should look at this carefully cause we don’t want to make fools of ourselves by attracting attention to the fact we are trying to limit what are lawful assemblies."
But community services director William Gilfillan insisted it is not an attempt to stop events from taking place.
He said: "I understand your sentiments because we are trying to construct something there is no blueprint for.
"We are trying to bring some income in and get some recovery for our costs. The aim is not to charge small groups but make the money back from bigs ones. This is by no means an attempt to shut down anything at a community level."
The proposals suggested charging for any events involving more than 50 people, although events commemorating armed forces and Armistice Day would be exempt.
Nairn and Cawdor councillor Liz MacDonald said: "It will be a relief for many that the proposed armed forces and Armistice Day events will be exempt but all other event organisers must be very concerned.
"Almost every organisation will be affected by this at a time when budgets are reducing and we are asking communities to do more."
Dingwall and Seaforth Liberal Democrat Angela MacLean defended the proposal, saying the council must look for ways to cover its costs in a time of looming budget cuts.
"I was torn at first but over the last few months we have been told we have to be more business like, get full cost recovery and look for ways to generate income and that’s what this is doing.
"We can’t say we have to be more businesslike then say the proposals aren’t fair. We have to charge for some things."
Inverness Central councillor and Inverness Caledonian Thistle fan Richard Laird pointed out that community celebrations, such as victory parades after big football wins, including the Scottish Cup win for ICT in 2015 and Ross County’s League Cup win the following year, would likely be charged for.
"My concern is that there is potential for unintended consequences, I don’t have enough information here about what could happen," he said.
"When Caley Thistle won the Scottish Cup and when Ross County won the League Cup would they have had to pay?
"We don’t have to worry about that this year but I remain an optimist and would be hopeful it will happen again."