22 May 2024

Festive lights ‘no longer cost-effective’

by Rebecca Hannant

Withernsea residents and the town council are divided over the change of location from Queen Street to Valley Gardens for this year’s Christmas lights switch-on event.

After plans for this year’s event were announced, a number of residents said they were worried about the effect the change would have on the high street, with the lack of footfall in Queen Street, and some expressed doubt over the event going ahead, after last year’s was cancelled with three days’ notice due to accessibility and funding issues.

Withernsea Town Council decided to change the location last year, citing accessibility issues among its main reasons. Holding the event in Queen Street would require the use of road restrictions and marshals, which would limit access to emergency vehicles, it said.

In a poll on the Withernsea Residents Community Group on Facebook, more than 500 people said that they wanted the switch-on event to remain in Queen Street.

One said: “This is just not what the residents of Withernsea want – they want that atmospheric high street aesthetic. The shops will be open, and the lights will be seen from 3pm as the nights get darker. If they are on in Valley Gardens, nobody is going to see them. People on foot are not going to walk to down to Valley Gardens – they are just going to be on, and no one will be looking at them.”

However, in a statement, Withernsea Town Council reiterated that the ageing infrastructure of the electrics in Queen Street meant that the lighting displays there would have to be scaled back.

It said: “The current lighting stock has been in place for over 20 years and is now past its best. The infrastructure is reliant on the co-operation of many property holders, permissions from other service providers and the support of local fundraising to support each year’s display. While some businesses have generously supported Withernsea’s Christmas Lights over the years, we cannot expect this continued support or that of the public when we are all tightening our purse strings in the current financial climate. Even our own fundraising efforts have depleted with a greatly reduced income year after year.

“We feel it is no longer cost-effective to put good money into an old and failing system, so on professional advice we will be decommissioning the existing lighting system and stock in 2023 and sourcing funds for a completely new lighting scheme in Withernsea.”

Despite the state of the current systems, Withernsea Town Council has secured £3,000 of funding which it says will contribute to an alternative lighting display in Valley Gardens. It says that it will investigate other sources of funding to bring the full event back to scale within the next few years. In the meantime, the council hopes to retain the overhead lighting and 40 Christmas trees with lights in Queen Street this year and will encourage all businesses to dress and light up their windows.

The Withernsea resident added: “I do understand the electrical wiring is redundant and needs replacing. I have been a resident of Withernsea for 25 years, and last year they had no excuse as they cancelled the event three days before it was due to go ahead.

“There were no stalls booked. Nobody had been booked. There was nothing in situ. I think it is going to flop. I will sit back and watch it flop. No one is answering our questions.

“The money used to dress up Valley Gardens this year will be better off building up the high street.”

Withernsea Town Council added: “We do not want this to be the start of the end for our town lights. We want this to be the start of something new which we feel our town deserves, and we are working hard to achieve this.

“If any of our local businesses wish to be involved with the design of the new scheme, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. We would welcome the input and support of both residents and businesses so that younger generations can continue to enjoy a local Christmas lighting display.”

An event to welcome in the festive season will still be held in the Valley Gardens on Saturday, December 3, between 4pm and 8pm.

The remembrance tree service will also still take place outside the Municipal Buildings on Friday, December 2. Stars are now available from the Gazette office at 1 Seaside Road, Withernsea HU19 SDL for a donation of £1.