Council chiefs could face a long legal battle if they press ahead with plans to reform Lynn’s historic Mart, a leading academic has warned.
A row over plans to reduce the fair to eight or nine days from two weeks and end Valentine’s Day opening erupted after fair operators claimed it contravened the event’s royal charter.
But critics have questioned the basis of the objections.
The Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain is consulting the National Fairground Archive at the University of Sheffield to assert what they see as historic rights.
Members are unhappy at the plans which were drawn up following the death of Rio Bell, three, during this year’s event.
Archive director Prof Vanessa Tomlin said she was examining the issues, but warned against a short term view.
“The things that save fairs from short term judgements are these charters”. she said.
Asked if she felt West Norfolk Council had done enough to examine the impact of the plan, she said: “I would suspect the council hasn’t looked closely enough at the relevant charter.
“To be fair, most of the time, the councils have never thought an act from the 12th century has the same legal quality today.”
Prof Tomlin added that charters of other fairs had been amended, but said she was not aware of a case where the change had been made without a “lengthy legal process”.
In one case, it had cost £60,000 to instigate a change.
The Showmen have said they will employ an independent consultant to examine The Mart.
But campaigner Paul Macey said the row suggested the guild was not interested in what was best for the town.
He said: “All the way through this I have supported The Mart but now they are going to push for as many hours as possible to line their pockets.
“They’re hoping no-one remembers what happened this year and I don’t think that is the right signal to be sending out.”
Meanwhile former West Norfolk Council officer Barrie Loftus said the charter merely stated The Mart should be staged in “the borough”.
He added: “If the guild is going to rely on the charter, which grants them no rights whatsoever, then they are on very thin ice.
“Perhaps, at long last, the council might now bite the bullet and move The Mart out of town. It is clearly unsuitable in this age in its present location.”
West Norfolk Council said last week it was looking into the issues raised and awaiting any further safety recommendations from the coroner.