Witney Christmas lights switch-on at risk over expense

David Cameron helps Father Christmas and Winter Princess Catherine Newett, 10, switch on Witney's Christmas lights in 2011

David Cameron helps Father Christmas and Winter Princess Catherine Newett, 10, switch on Witney's Christmas lights in 2011

First published in News Witney Gazette: Photograph of the Author by

WITNEY’S Christmas lights switch-on could be cancelled this year due to the financial cost and “dangerous” crowd numbers.

Witney Town Council is instead considering holding smaller events, such as lantern processions, over several days before Christmas.

The added cost of security for Prime Minister David Cameron’s attendance has also been raised by organisers as a cause for concern. Last year’s lights switch-on was attended by about 8,000 people and cost £38,000, including £2,300 for security.

The event drew protestors and a woman was arrested while Mr Cameron, the MP for Witney, was on stage switching on the lights.

Mayor Harry Eaglestone said: “My plan is to try to spread it over three days at different venues, but not have an official switch-on, no road closure and no David Cameron because it costs us a lot of money and we had criticism from the district council because of the number of people there.

“We cannot go on like we have been. The cost is unbelievable and the crowd control is getting dangerous.”

He added: “As much as we like him as our MP and he does an awful lot for the area, David Cameron attending is proving to be too costly.”

Mr Eaglestone said the town council would approach Witney’s Lions, Rotary and Round Table groups to organise events.

They could involve a lantern procession featuring primary school children, and carol singing in Market Square.

The 2012 switch-on cost the town council £45,568, including £14,000 to install and remove the lights, £14,978 for staff and £2,300 for security.

About £7,000 of this was retrieved through businesses sponsoring the event.

Town council officers recommended “scaling down” the event in a report on the council’s budget for 2013/14.

The document said: “Officers are concerned about the amount of time and budget afforded to this event, especially in times when the council has pressing issues it needs to address with other services and facilities.

“Security and marshalling of the event is a big concern, especially given the attraction to local and national activists.”

Mr Cameron said: “I understand Witney Town Council has consulted with all those involved. I have asked to be kept in the loop with plans for this year’s festive celebrations, which I am sure will be a huge success.”

The issue will be discussed at the town council’s leisure and recreation committee meeting on Monday, from 6pm.

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