Early Christmas joy as event cut rejected

Christmas Lights, Leighton Buzzard 2017
Christmas Lights, Leighton Buzzard 2017

Leighton Buzzard’s Christmas Festival is to continue as a three-day event, it has been confirmed.

A town council review has concluded that shrinking the festival to just a Sunday event, as was originally proposed back in March last year, would be a retrograde step.

The council’s Cultural and Economic Committee originally backed an officer’s report which suggested the cutback as the town council looked to make best use of its budget and resources.

But that decision was overturned at a full council meeting weeks later, with the 2017 event sticking to the three-day format and a full review of the festival promised ahead of Christmas 2018.

That investigation has now concluded with the lights switch-on and fireworks display remaining on the Friday evening, with the possibility of seeking sponsorship from shops following feedback that the fireworks possibly weren’t as good this time around.

It was also agreed that there should be a move towards a local ‘celebrity’, such as a Leighton Buzzard Honorary Burgess winner, turning on the lights, rather than trying to source a big ‘name’.

On the Saturday the aim is to give the charter market a more Christmassy feel, including the Santa Dash and more participation with the traders and shops.

A Sunday Christmas Market is being lined up to finish off the festival, with stalls, food and entertainment.

The decision has been met with relief by Gennaro Borrelli, chairman of independent traders’ group LB First, who said at the time the Sunday idea was first mooted that reducing the event to a single day would have “sent out the wrong signals”. This week he said: “We are extremely happy the town council has decided to keep the Christmas event as three days after considering all the arguments we put across. We are hoping to put it [having just a Sunday event] to bed once and for all.

“The economic arguments were very, very strong, and also listening to the feedback from local traders and residents. It’s a format that works. It’s different from other towns, but that’s good. We like to be a torchbearer.”

Mr Borrelli added that for this year’s festival, the Saturday would coincide with Small Business Saturday which would help “co-join the weekend between Friday and Sunday”.

He said: “Last year, more money was spent on Small Business Saturday than ever before. If you can give that a boost it would be a lot easier to get all the small businesses on board and behind it.

“It is an important time of year, and it wraps around the Friday and Sunday as well.”

He added that 2017’s Festival Sunday was “the best Sunday we’ve had, so the event is building all the time”.

Cllr Clive Palmer, a member of the council’s Christmas Festival Task and Finish Group, seconded last year’s motion by Cllr Steve Jones that the festival should remain as three days in 2017 with a review to follow.

He said this week: “Three days is what people seem to want. It was very successful this year and we are there to deliver a service to the town.”