Published: 20:34, 27 November 2020
| Updated: 20:39, 27 November 2020
Council chiefs say that "lessons have been learnt" following a chaotic eleventh hour shutdown of a Covid-secure circus.
Circus Zyair, based at Paddock Wood's Hop Farm, was forced to cancel four days of shows in October half term after Kent County Council (KCC) said inadequate safety measures were in place.
The emergency closure of socially distanced performances at the 400-acre country park near Tonbridge has led to five job cuts and claimed to have cost the organisers more than £100,000.
Disappointed families were turned away at the last minute despite the local authority, Tonbridge and Malling council approving the risk assessment ahead of Friday's opening night on October 23.
A u-turn was made by KCC four days later following a site visit. Officials were "assured" the event could restart after "layout changes" were made. No specific details have been revealed.
Maidstone County Hall health bosses defended the "messy" ruling at a virtual meeting of KCC's scrutiny committee earlier today.
Cllr Clair Bell (Con), cabinet member for KCC public health, had approved the closure and said she was advised it was the right choice by her council officers due to social-distancing concerns.
She said: "It gave me no pleasure to do something which stopped people having fun and enjoying themselves.
"I pictured the disappointment that families would face at the news, but I had to balance this against the risk to health."
Andrew Scott Clark, KCC's public health director, said the county was starting to see "rising" cases of coronavirus but admitted there was no evidence of people catching the virus from the show.
He said: "Knowing we have asymptomatic transmission is the reason we advised that this decision should be taken."
The decision was justified on the basis that Marden, eight miles from Paddock Wood, had recorded 81 weekly cases per 100,000 people towards the end of October.
At the time, Kent was in the lowest Covid tier however another circus was allowed to perform a short distance away in Leybourne.
Circus Zyair also said measures were in place to protect guests, including blocking off rows of seats and staff wearing face masks.
KCC corporate director Barbara Cooper, who was involved in the emergency decision, said "We were moving at speed on all of this.
“We do have lessons to learn and our local engagement could have been better at the time. But it is easy to look at it now."
KCC's opposition leader Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem) described the fallout as a "messy outcome" while Maidstone county councillor Gary Cooke (Con) said the issue "could have been avoided" with better communication between KCC and the borough council.
Cllr Andy Booth (Con), who is the committee chairman, said he was "confident" that lessons had been learnt and the members agreed that learnt lesson reports should be published at future meetings.
"We did everything the right way but people have messed it up and the circus is the one that has to suffer..."
Circus Zyair boss, Adam Ingham, said he watched today's debate with "absolute horror" as he revealed that just 27 people turned up to the Tuesday reopening despite more than 100 sold tickets.
Reacting to the meeting, the 28-year-old said more than £100,000 of revenue had been lost from insurance payments and ticket refunds. No Covid cases have been recorded at any of his shows.
After the council meeting, he said: "Lessons have been learnt, but it does not solve the problem that people have been made redundant and this has potentially bankrupted my business.
"We did everything the right way but people have messed it up and the circus is the one that has to suffer."