Burnham-On-Sea town councillors have this week earmarked £16,000 of grant funding towards a project to introduce a temporary ice rink in the town this Christmas.

Local community group BEST (Burnham Events Social Team) announced in May that it wants to bring an ice rink to Burnham town centre for three weeks as an attraction over the festive period, but it needs thousands of pounds to turn the plans into reality.

The group was represented at Wednesday’s Policy and Finance Committee meeting by Burnham tourism manager Ian Jefferies, who said the proposed ice rink is planned to run from December 12th through to January 2nd.

“Sedgemoor District Council has given us its backing, allowing an area of Burnham’s Lynton Road Car Park, pictured right, to be set aside for the ice rink. It could become a massive success for the town, bringing in extra visitors to the town centre and helping local charities, and we’d like it to grow over the coming years.”

“The rink would be open for seven hours a day in the run-up to Christmas and be able to cater for up to 25 skaters at any one time. We’d charge £4 for each 30-minute skating session and could see up to 350 skaters a day, which would generate £1,400 of daily income with extra advertising revenue on top.”

“We’ve calculated that we need the ice rink to operate at 36.5 per cent capacity – with an average of 19 skaters an hour – to reach break-even. We have raised £700 so far towards the ice rink costs, but need £16,000 to make it happen.”

Cllr Peter Burridge-Clayton told the meeting: “I really think this is a fantastic idea for Burnham. The location is excellent, given that it’s on a bus route, there’s plenty of nearby parking and there’s scope to expand with extra stalls. It would be a super facility over the Christmas season.”

Cllr David Hoggarth responded: “I hate to be a killjoy here, but being a businessman for many years, I feel this grant request is riddled with questions where the information is not backed up with enough detail to justify a £16,000 grant request. If this prohect fails, we will have a lot of egg on our face.”

He continued: “You’ve said that you will attract visitors from a 30-mile radius but you have also said you will be spending nothing on marketing – there’s no such thing as a free lunch and this needs to be looked at carefully.”

“I don’t want to kill the idea, but there are many other unanswered questions including the cost of advertising boards and the provision of first aid – does the local group who will provide this have the capabilities to provide it for three whole weeks?”

He continued: “The documentation on these proposals has come to us very late and we’ve not had encough time to fully consider the idea – there are far too many outstanding questions here.”

But Cllr Burridge-Clayton said he felt the questions could all be addressed, adding: “We as a council spend £8,000 to £12,000 on a 20-minute fireworks display each November, so why wouldn’t we spend £16,000 on a three week ice rink?”

Cllr John Parkes asked: “I think this is a very innovative idea, but I am interested in making sure we get value for money and I’m interested to know what the sustainability of the project is?”

Town Clerk Denise Emery said there is not enough cash in the council’s current grant budget to meet the full £16,000 grant request, but Cllr Burridge-Clayton proposed that the funding be taken out of the council’s earmarked cash reserves instead to allow it to proceed.

Cllr Hoggarth asked whether tax payers would therefore be asked to foot the bill in the future, but Cllr Burridge-Clayton assured the meeting that the council “won’t put up the council tax due to this – the reserves don’t affect the council’s budget.”

A vote took place, with four members voting in favour of a recommendation to award the £16,000 grant – subject to approval at next week’s full Town Council meeting – while Cllrs Hoggarth and Facey both abstained from the vote.

Separately, Burnham Chamber Of Trade was recommended to receive a grant of £3,500 – the same as last year – towards the cost of organising Burnham’s Christmas lights switch-on and installing Christmas lights.

The council also recommended using £10,000 of its Tesco 106 funding to buy new festive lights for the town, replacing the old lights which are now 10 years old. Highbridge Chamber of Trade is also to receive £2,500 for its town display this Christmas.

All the recommendations are subject to the approval of the full Town Council, which meets next Monday.