Festive cheer restored after lights row

Friday, 21 November, 2008

FESTIVE cheer was restored to a Suffolk town last night as its 'best ever' Christmas lights display was switched on - marking the end of a bitter row which almost saw the illuminations sold off.

It was feared last year's decorations in Bury St Edmunds would be the last thanks to the row over the cost of decking out its cobbled streets - which came to a head when the town council agreed to put the lights up for sale.

Bury Town Council had said it was unable to meet the escalating cost of maintaining the popular displays, which they estimated to be £50,000 annually.

But in January, Bury MP David Ruffley convened a special meeting to try and save the lights and a new committee was set up, bringing together a number of organisations in the town, including the town council, St Edmundsbury Borough Council and the Town Centre Management Group.

And at last night's celebration switch-on, the sense of relief that the tradition had been saved was clear to see as thousands of people converged on the town centre for a massive party.

BBC Look East weather girl Julie Reinger performed the switch on accompanied by stars of this year's Bury Theatre Royal pantomime.

Bob Cockle, Mayor of St Edmundsbury, said: 'It is going to be a brilliant Christmas. The town is looking very good. The partnership arrangement we have for this year's display has made them the best we have ever had.'

Steve Peters, town centre manager, said the business community had been appalled by the potential loss of the lights.

'We were left in a situation with no lights and that would have been disastrous - for some shops the Christmas period gives them a third of their annual trade and without lights shoppers would go elsewhere.

'The relief tonight is enormous, it has been a long and difficult year but it shows what can be achieved when people work together.'

The event marked the start of late night shopping in the town running right through to Christmas - with visitors benefiting from free parking from 4pm on Thursdays until Christmas for late night shopping.

A spokeswoman for the borough council said: 'In addition to the host of festive activities on offer, special markets will also be held during the Sundays running up to Christmas.

'The markets, which will compliment the regular markets held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, will start on November 30 and run every Sunday up to and including December 21.'

Mr Ruffley said: 'In these difficult economic times it is fantastic to have some good news for traders in the town and this much improved display will be sure to bring in trade.

'I would like to offer my congratulations to Steve Peters and to everyone involved in the project this year for making it such a success.'