Devizes councillors have stepped in to save the town’s historic canoe race so that it can go ahead at Easter.

The town council is to fund the provision of parking spaces essential to stage the Devizes to Westminster race, which was feared to be under threat following Wiltshire Council’s move this month to end free parking for events.

Devizes Council battled with the county authority to waive parking fees for race organisers but Wiltshire Council would not budge, and so the town will pick up the £390 bill for using a total of 234 spaces at the Wharf and Couch Lane car parks from April 14-16.

The spaces are needed for race marshals, registration points and areas for the canoeists to prepare.

Around 400 canoeists are expected to take part this year in the charity event which has been running since 1948 and which traditionally brings huge crowds of supporters to Devizes.

Town councillors feared that if they did not subsidise the event there was a risk that the race might not take place and that, they felt, would be highly damaging for the town.

Cllr Andy Geddes told last week’s meeting of the council’s Community and Civic Resources Committee: “If the Wharf and Couch Lane car parks are not made available the race will not take place and that would be disastrous for the event and for the reputation of the town.”

Cllr Jane Burton stressed that it was essential that the race be preserved.

She said: “This is not some little jolly, the race is international, it’s worldwide”.

A town council spokesman said: “The council has agreed to fund the event charge for the Wharf and Council Lane carparks. Whilst both members and officers made representations to Wiltshire Council, we could not get them to agree to honour the previously agreed arrangements.”

Due to Covid, this year’s race will be slightly shorter than its usual 125-mile route to the banks of St Thomas’s Hospital. The race will now finish at the 108-mile mark at Thames Young Mariners at Teddington.

In a statement the race organisers said: “None of us wishes to see the event ‘watered down’ or in any way diminished. But the decision to finish at Thames Young Mariners this year was not ours to take.

"The Hospital Trust at St Thomas’s informed us that it would not allow us to use the riverside gardens for our finish area because St Thomas’ Hospital is still operating as a major Covid vaccination centre.”