Council backs Swaffham Christmas lights extension, despite row over adminstration costs

Christmas Lights Switch on at Swaffham
Christmas Lights Switch on at Swaffham

Town councillors in Swaffham have backed proposals to extend the town’s Christmas lights display, despite a row over its administration.

A series of measures intended to improve the spectacle for this year were approved in principle at a meeting last Wednesday.

But the debate was overshadowed by a dispute between the authority and the Swaffham Trade Association over adminstration costs associated with the staging of the event.

The two organisations began a partnership to organise the display ahead of the 2016 switch-on in November.

However, association officials were unhappy that they had been asked to make a financial contribution towards the time given by council staff to the organisation of the switch-on.

They claim such an arrangement had never been discussed with them, or recorded in minutes of meetings.

During the public forum, the association’s chairman, Colin Mason, said: “If we don’t come to an amicable agreement, I think we’re going to end up falling out.”

But town clerk Richard Bishop said there was an established convention that council officers would step in where there was no volunteer available to fulfil an essential role.

He also insisted the figure which was given to the association was calculated in the same way as for any other group.

He added: “This is not something where we’re trying to do the Trade Association out of money.”

Sheila Lister branded the association’s stance as “appalling” and said other town groups had been obliged to meet similar costs.

But Robert Bartrum said the council’s stance was “not in the spirit” of the event.

Members ultimately accepted a proposal from Colin Houghton to hold separate talks to clarify the arrangements.

The proposed extensions to the display include lights in both London Street and Station Street, a laser display on the Assembly Rooms, subject to securing necessary permissions, and greater integration with the Plowright Place shopping complex.

The association also wants to advertise the event earlier than in previous years.

Mrs Lister also voiced concerns about the costs of the event, suggesting the amount the council had spent was significantly higher than had been reported.

But Steve Allen insisted increased investment would be needed to maintain and extend the displays for future years, in order to compete with those offered by neighbouring towns.