Leighton Buzzard’s Christmas Festival Weekend could shrink to just a Sunday event as the town council looks to make best use of its budget and resources.
The festival, which has previously been billed as a three-day festive extravangza, has traditionally kicked off on the last Friday in November with the lights switch-on and fireworks display.
But now all the action, which has been a showpiece event on the town’s calendar for the past decade, could be confined to just the Sunday with the town council stating this will be more efficient.
At a meeting of the Cultural & Economic Services, councillors voted 4-2 in favour of the Sunday option.
This would ordinarily be the final decision as the committee has delegated powers and can make rulings on events without the approval of full council. However the vote can be scrutinised at full council on April 24 if desired by members.
A town council spokesman said: “While it is relatively unusual for full council to overturn a decision, this does happen on occasion and there is provision for this within Standing Orders.”
The report the commitee considered, by town and community promotions manager Gill Miller, said the council recognised the strain a three-day festival weekend had on the event’s budget and manpower, so in 2015 the council agreed to focus most activities on Friday evening and Sunday daytime. The KidsOut Santa Dash still gave Saturday a festive flavour.
The report states: “These actions began to focus how the event was delivered. It was still referred to as a ‘weekend’ because fairground attractions and the food court remained in place as a compromise.
“Essentially, the Saturday no longer had activities and what remained served to benefit the Town’s Charter Market as well as general retailers.
Whilst this appeared to satisfy the wish to maintain a three-day event, some visitors expressed disappointment in feedback about the Saturday offer as it did not live up to expectations of a three-day festival with the market being the general market and not gift focused.
“Whilst the above brought benefits to how the event budget was utilised and the ability to staff the various activities over the event period, officers reflected on the ongoing stresses and strains that impacted on the ability of partners to deliver a Sunday element of the event.
“Successful recruitment of gift stalls for the Sunday has proved to be variable as those who like to attend the event know that the greatest footfall is on the Friday evening.
“Stall bookings for Friday are therefore secured faster. Focus has therefore been given to securing entertainments and attractions for the Sunday with the budget.”
Mrs Miller added: “The first weekend of December can have many demands on visitors’ time, with family visits and the pull of larger retail destinations.
“It is apparent that Friday evening is the most popular part of the festival with the elements of switching on of the festive lighting scheme, fireworks, etc.
“Attendance of the Sunday is unlikely to be comparable with the council’s other events and in light of the ongoing strains in delivering the what is called a three-day event, officers requested that the council’s event partner, LB First, take time to reflect and consider alternative delivery options for the 2017 as early in the year as possible.
“An idea proposed was for a one-day event taking place on the Sunday inclusive of the Friday activities similar to other towns such as St Neots. Provision would be given to keep the additional Saturday funfair and food court activities as the fair is particularly favoured by LB First.”
Cllr Ken Ferguson, who chaired the committee meeting and voted for the Sunday shift, said “The committee did consider the various proposals before it on this topic. After extensive discussion the issue has been referred to the full council in order to obtain the views of all councillors and stakeholders in order to ensure the continued success of this valued event in the town’s calendar.”
Gennaro Borrelli, chairman of independent traders’ group LB First, said he hoped full council would ultimately overturn the committee’s decision.
He said: “We have canvassed our members, the general public and market traders who all want it as a three-day event. It’s something that works very well. It should be put to as many councillors as possible to make the final decision.
“There are a huge amount of reasons for it to be three days. Lots of businesses benefit on the Friday night. On Saturday there are extra people coming in and the market traders benefit as well as the shops.
“On Sunday there are businesses that open and it is more relaxed and seen as a family day.
“At that time of year, if the weather is bad one day then it still gives options to come in other days.”
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