The boss of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was "puzzled" by a major racecourse's decision to ban picnics within its enclosures.
Newcastle Racecourse, which attracts more than 20,000 visitors to its most popular meetings, made the decision to stop people laying out rugs and setting up folding chairs, blaming health and safety reasons. It suggested picnic furniture amid big crowds was a trip hazard. WORDS: PA
But Judith Hackitt, HSE chair, said: "I was interested to hear about Newcastle Racecourse's decision to ban picnics but was puzzled about which health and safety regulations applied.
"The answer is none, so it is unfair to lay the blame for the ban at health and safety's door.
"If the real reason is one of crowd control, ease of movement during meetings as well as litter, why not say so? The 'elf and safety' excuse looks tired.
"I'd urge anyone wanting to check if a health and safety excuse is genuine to contact the Myth Busters Challenge Panel at www.hse.gov.uk/myth."
Racecourse executive David Williamson said all 2015 meetings bar one would be subject to the picnic ban within enclosures, saying there had been problems last year.
He said: "We have taken the decision not to allow picnics or picnic furniture into Newcastle Racecourse for all of our 2015 fixtures, with the exception of The Blaydon Races in August, to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all of our guests, which is our number one priority.
"At Ladies Day and Plate Day, which regularly attract in excess of 20,000 guests, a number of health and safety issues were highlighted to the racecourse executive, so to ensure the enjoyment of all those attending these popular fixtures and for ease of movement around the racecourse, we have taken the decision not to allow picnics in any enclosure.
"This is not a decision that has been made lightly and we hope that this change will allow us to continue to provide an enjoyable experience for all of our guests.
"In line with the change in policy, more seated areas and additional food outlets will be available in both enclosures for guests to use should they wish, and for those who wish to have a picnic before coming into the racecourse we will have a designated area within the estate where picnics can be had."
He said the new policy was not brought in to get racegoers to spend more at food concessions.
"The decision has been made purely for the comfort and safety of all racegoers," he said.
"The amount of people bringing in chairs, rugs, picnic boxes etc caused space to be limited for the number of people attending the race days due to picnickers spreading out.
"The added furniture was a potential trip hazard and a few people reported to first aid because of this.
"People are under no obligation whatsoever to purchase food while in the racecourse grounds.
"For those who wish to have a picnic before coming into the racecourse, we will have a designated area within the estate where picnics can be had if they so wish."
Regular racegoer Sue Nicholson, from Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, was horrified when she heard about the policy change.
She had planned to go to this year's Ladies Day - a highlight of the North East social calendar when racegoers of both sexes dress up - in a group of 12 friends, but she will now cancel the trip.
She said: "I particularly like getting dressed up, wearing silly shoes and a silly hat and going to Ladies Day.
"For the last two years I have gone with a group of about a dozen friends and we have a great time, we take picnics and have a lot of fun.
"But after we found out about the picnic ban, we are not going."
The venue did not allow racegoers to bring their own alcohol in, so that was not part of the policy change, she said. But racegoers dressed up in their finery might not want to eat the kind of food offered by concessions, she added.
"You can take a picnic to Glyndebourne, you can take one to Ascot but you can't take a picnic to Newcastle Racecourse? Who do they think they are?"
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