June 22, 2016
Councillors give backing to Burnham-On-Sea Christmas lights plans

Mid-summer's day may have only just taken place, but one Burnham-On-Sea group is already planning forward to Christmas.

Members of the Town Council's Policy and Finance Committee have this week given unanimous backing to Burnham-On-Sea Chamber of Trade's proposals for changes to the town centre Christmas lights display, to include a new-format switch-on event on Saturday November 19th plus a late night shopping evening.

The Chamber's Vice Chairman, Alex Turco, told councillors at Monday's meeting: "Firstly, I would like to apologise as here we are on the Summer Solstice talking about Christmas, but we actually have just five months to go until the festive lights are due to be switched on and there's an old adage 'if you fail to prepare then you can prepare to fail' so that's why we're here tonight."

"The first part of our application is the annual installation of the Christmas lights. The normal cost for this is about £3,000 but that pre-supposes that we don't need any repairs or maintenance to the light fittings or the light electrics. Of course last year we had new lights funded by the Town Council and the Tesco funding and we are therefore hoping that repairs will be kept to a bear minimum."

He added: "While undertaking a survey at the end of the Christmas lights display in 2015, there were some concerns raised to us at the southern end of the High Street, especially between Adam Street and Abingdon Street, that because we were no longer put lights on actual lighting columns there were not enough lights in that area."

"But we want to support businesses at the south end of the High Street, especially as many have been hit hard by the ongoing effects of the closure of Morrisons, and there will also be a skating rink again in the Lynton Road car park this year."

"We want to make sure there is a clear connection from the rink into the High Street so that people do actually shop and skate. We would like to do something about that and have several options - we could buy new lights, recondition old lights by upgrading them with LED lights, or we could hire new solar-powered LED Christmas trees which could be hung from the hanging basket stands."

"The final part of our application is the big community event, the switch-on, which we have scheduled for November 19th to avoid clashing with Highbridge's lights switch-on on November 26th."

"We have been running this event for many years and we learn something new each year. We are very conscious about the wide range of opinions about the location and road closures - we know that our businesses are sensitive to roads being shut and we therefore intend to change the configuration of this year's event."

"It will start later in the day and the actual switch-on will be later at around 6-6.30pm. One reason for going later is so that we don't have to close the road until we really need to. That way, town centre business can go on as usual on a busy Saturday morning."

"Equally, we are aware that a number of attempts have been made over the years to create standalone late night shopping events whereas we already have a big event for the lights switch-on and thought wouldn't it be great to maximise the footfall and the benefit of this event by encouraging shops to take part in a 'later night opening'. That's why we plan to hold the lights switch-on later in the day this year, to create a more compact event, but it will still include afternoon entertainment with our local schools and groups that will be of benefit to all local residents, including families and children."

Cllr John Parkes said: "The Chamber should be congratulated on a very detailed application with a clear rationale. I support this grant."

Cllr Paul Young added: "I think having the late night shopping on the same day as the switch-on is an excellent idea - the event does bring in a large captive audience."

Cllr Janet Keen added: "We are already a quarter of the way through our financial year and we have already spent 54.5% of the budget. I know that things like this don't come cheap but if we grant this application in full that would deplete our budget to around £14,000 for the next nine months and we don't know what other grants from other voluntary organisations will come our way. We have had some very big grants in the last couple of months and I do worry how we will manage the rest of the year. I would not like to be in a position in January where we are having to decline applications."

Mr Turco responded: "We would like to help you. We are all volunteers at the Chamber, as you are, and we are reasonable people, so here's a counter-proposition from us. If you are showing an interest in the LED solar-powered Christmas trees compared with the other options - to upgrade or further develop the lights - then we have the detailed costings for that and we can easily take the cost of the display extension down by £1,000. So if you direct us today to go for the solar powered Christmas trees attached to your hanging basket columns then I can say that our budget will be reduced along with the grant application to £3,500."

Cllr Keen thanked the Chamber, saying: "That's an extremely helpful and generous offer."

Cllr Keen proposed that the committee accept the £3,500 application, seconded by Cllr John Parkes. The committee unanimously accepted the application, subject to the approval of the full council.

Chairman Cllr Mike Facey added: "I would like to thank the Chamber for a superb presentation - working together with us and showing proper thinking. It's a wonderful application and there are lots of good ideas here."

"I am aware that we had a speaker earlier who mentioned that the word business is used a lot of the time - I understand where she was coming from - but we are elected members here to represent members of the public and what more can you do than to encourage families to see the Christmas lights in both our towns."


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