Shops refuse to pay for Christmas lights
EXETER’S High Street will be without Christmas lights after the cash-strapped city council’s plea for stores to fund the display was rejected.
It is believed this year would be the first time in decades that the High Street is unlit in the run-up to Christmas.
Earlier in the summer the council wrote to every High Street retailer asking for a contribution towards the cost of the lights.
But the response was so poor the authority believes it is now extremely unlikely that the display will go ahead this year. In the city centre, lights will be confined to Princesshay and the Guildhall Shopping Centre. A joint switch-on ceremony will take place on Thursday, November 22.
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City council leader Pete Edwards said he hoped the lights would return in future years.
“We have given business people plenty of notice and if they are not willing to contribute then there will be no Christmas lights in the High Street,” he said.
“If businesses in Princesshay and the Guildhall Shopping Centre can pay towards Christmas lights, then it is reasonable to ask why can’t those businesses in the High Street do likewise.
“It is a shame – but no one else is going to pay for them.
“We need a mechanism in place for next year so that this does not happen again.”
He said if stores had voted to establish a Business Improvement District in the city centre Christmas lights would have been funded from the additional revenue raised by the levy on business rates.
But businesses rejected the plan in a vote last year.
Traditionally businesses paid for the display, but over recent years the city council has increasingly been picking up any shortfall. But after being forced to cut its budget it can no longer afford to do so.
John Harvey, Exeter’s city centre manager, said he was extremely disappointed with the response from traders.
He said: “For too long people have expected that someone will step into the breach and pick up the tab – that is not going to happen this year. City centre businesses have to look at themselves and ask, ‘Would we do better, would we be more successful, if we have lights or if we don’t?’ If the answer is that they would do better with the lights they have to take the right decisions. The dialogue on this is still ongoing – but I am pretty downbeat about the situation and people know I am not normally downbeat.”
He added: “I regret this very much, but there will still be a great package of Christmas activity and fun in the city centre, with sparkling lights in both Princesshay and the Guildhall Shopping Centre making Exeter a special place to visit.
“I shall be disappointed if we don’t have Christmas lights in the High Street – but the balance of probability means that is now more likely than there being lights. There are simply not enough businesses willing to play their part.”
Andrew McNeilly, manager of the Guildhall Shopping Centre, said: “We are working with Princesshay, as we did last year, and have already plans put in place as a fall-back just in case the High Street Christmas lights did not go ahead, so that people have something to come to.
“We have always known there was going to be this ongoing situation as it was getting harder and harder for the city council to support it.
“Our switch-on this year will be bigger and better than last year and, because it is starting earlier, at 4.30pm, it will be very much family-orientated.”