A few people have moaned a bit about the Christmas Lights and I thought I’d put down the background and facts to help people understand where we are and how we got here.
A few years ago we really DID have terrible lights. Basically, we had the bulbs along the river and some more bulbs in the Market Place, and that’s it. The Christmas Light Switch On was a handful of Councillors and a few dozen people watching a switch get pressed and some bulbs light up. It wasn’t ideal.
Every year people complained bitterly about them, but Christmas lights are a lot of money and Town Council didn’t want to commit that sort of budget to improving them. When I became a Town Councillor I put in a motion to spend a huge chunk on lights and managed to get support for it.
But we wanted to be sure the people of the Town supported it to0, so we did a vote in the local papers. Here’s a blog post from 2014 about it:http://www.stevetierney.org/the-great-wisbech-christmas-li…/
A majority voted for the improvements, but even then there were still a fair few who thought it was a waste of money and shouldn’t be done.
With a majority vote and support on the Council we pressed on and implemented the new lights, which took six months of getting competitive quotes, designing schemes etc.
Myth Buster 1: We did not spend loads of money on designing a scheme, that was all included in the quotation as the companies sought to win our business.
Although it was quite close and we weren’t sure we’d get the improvements in time we did manage to get them installed for Christmas 2014. That year the Christmas Light Switch on event broke all records. It has continued to break them each year since.
Myth Buster 2: You can’t just buy any old lights and string them up. Government authorities must purchase suitable, safe, durable, commercial lighting from reputable companies.
£20,000 does not go as far as you might think. We managed to secure the central piece in the Market Place, the lights and glowing stars on the trees, the light fixtures that adorn most exits from the Market Place, and the long channel of lights than run along High Street. Also some improvements elsewhere.
We did not spend all the money the first year and we did not install all the lights we had purchased. We have added a little each year since: lights on Hill Street. Lights on the Town Council Chambers. In response to calls from people for lights on the Freedom Bridge Roundabout, we did those.
Myth Buster 3: March have lovely Christmas Lights. They were donated by a very wealthy benefactor in a will. March are very lucky to have had such a generous donation. Wisbech has not had any large donations but would certainly welcome any if you have some funds you can spare, or know somebody who does.
Although spending £20,000 may seem like a lot, people do not realise that it costs a huge amount for a contractor to install the lights and to remove them, and this cost repeats every year. Every time we increase the amount of lights we put up, we increase the large installation and removal costs too. So when new lights are purchased that is not a one-off cost, but must also consider the additional costs every year for installation, runtime and removal.
Myth Buster 4: Lights do sometimes break down. This is outside of our control. When they break down the Council does everything it can to get the contractor to put the problem right as soon as possible. Sometimes this can be done quickly, sometimes it cannot. The North Brink lights were down for a few days and have now been repaired. Some of the lights on the Christmas Tree aren’t presenting working and that will be remedied as soon as possible.
All of this – the Switch On Event, the organisation of the lights, the planning, is done by a tiny team of dedicated volunteers and a handful of Town Council staff and Councillors. Anybody can volunteer to be a part of the Festivals Working Party, which organises and runs almost all of our town festivals. Please do volunteer if you can spare the time. It’s hard work, but mostly rewarding. The only time it’s not rewarding is when somebody sits on their couch and tells those volunteers how much better everything should be. If you want it to be better, come be a part of making it better.
Myth Buster 5: What can be done in the Market Place is quite limited. To install Christmas Lights requires special permanent fixtures to attach the lights to and to get power to them. All the buildings around the Market Place are privately owned and you cannot attach things to those buildings without securing permission from the owner. Owners are not always easy to contact and do not always say “yes.”
Personally, I like our town lights and would not want to see them gaudier, or too over the top. I think they are tasteful and lovely. But what I think doesn’t matter. If enough of you want the Council to spend another huge sum of money on more lights and more annual installation costs then let me know and I will go and make the case all over again. But bear in mind that this will almost certainly require a Council Tax rise over and above the demands that Town Council save the Museum, save and run The Castle, and invest large sums renovating the Market Place. It’s a debate that’s well worth having, if you think we need to.