A ban on municipal bonfires in Birmingham may be lifted in time to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, writes Chief Reporter Paul Dale...
Thousands of people from across north Birmingham and beyond enjoyed a traditional Guy Fawkes Night at Pype Hayes Park for 40 years - until the health police moved in.
Last year, the city council decided to ban the bonfire because it was too dangerous.
The council, which ran the event, said it was following Fire Authority advice about preventing toxins from the fire harming people with bronchial conditions.
Unsurprisingly, without a bonfire, last year ' s fireworks-only event was a bit of a damp squib. Only 12,000 people attended, compared with 17,000 in 2003.
The council lost #57,000 as a result and decided to scrap the Pype Hayes fireworks night altogether. It was to be replaced by an event at the Warwickshire County Cricket ground, in Edgbaston, where three shows with laser projections, choreographed fireworks and major pop groups, would be watched by an audience of 25,000.
There would, however, be no bonfire.
Yesterday, the people of north Birmingham fought back.
Council officials were forced to think again after being told that the abolition of the Pype Hayes bonfire and fireworks was an attack on the cultural traditions of the English.
The ban, introduced by the former Labour administration, does not sit easily with the Conservative- Liberal Democrat coalition's policy of encouraging a revival of English festivals. The coalition, since June last year, has put money into St George's Day celebrations and the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar this October.
Council leader Mike Whitby said: "This administration has shown that it understands tradition."
Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) added: "I like bonfires. I was brought up on bonfires."
Coun John Alden (Con Harborne), the cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture, withdrew his decision to scrap Pype Hayes and stage the Edgbaston event instead after being subjected to withering criticism by a scrutiny committee.
Councillors from across the political divide argued that the Pype Hayes bonfire was a cherished institution, that a report by council officers about damage to the park and the apparent wishes of local people to get rid of the fireworks event was based on false information, and that abolition would simply see residents stage their own unofficial bonfires.
Coun Mike Olley ( Lab Tyburn) said: "If we strip away bonfire night from Pype Hayes Park, we strip away the English cultural heritage. Burning Guy Fawkes on the top of a fire is as English as anything, it is one of the festivals people enjoy participating in."
Likening the ban to something out of the television comedy Yes Minister, Coun Olley accused council officials of submitting a "most underhand" one-sided report with the intention of forcing the end of the Pype Hayes bonfire.
A written report by Tyburn councillors noted: "The burning of the Guy is symbolic of the retribution set against those who so conspired to destroy what we today regard as the mother of all parliaments."
Coun Jilly Bermingham (Lab Edgbaston) said: "People look forward all year to the Pype Hayes fireworks and bonfire. If it goes, the residents of north Birmingham will have nothing.
"They certainly won't get on a bus and travel to Edgbaston."