A ROW over funding has raised questions over the future of Newbury’s Christmas lights.
Newbury Town Council and Newbury Business Improvement District (BID) have so far been unable to reach an agreement on the council’s contribution for the £84,000 festive illuminations and switch-on ceremony.
The council has offered a reduced contribution of £12,000 for this year’s Christmas lights.
However, Newbury BID has asked for a contribution of £18,000.
While grant funding is thought to be available to plug the gap for 2017, the long-term future of the festive lights could be in doubt.
Newbury Town Council leader Adrian Edwards (Con, Falkland), admitted that the funding for this year’s lights had been a “contentious” issue.
“We have to look carefully at how we spend our money,” he said.
“The Christmas lights are very nice to have, but we are not obliged to have them.
“We do understand, however, it benefits the people of Newbury and it also benefits the businesses of Newbury.”
The BID took over the running of the Christmas lights from the town council in 2013, with the annual switch-on now regularly attracting large crowds to the Market Place, with live music, street food and a festive parade.
Last year, Newbury Town Council provided £16,000 of funding towards the lights.
However, chief executive Hugh Peacocke said that taking on extra services such as grit bins, a £31,000 contribution to the district’s library upkeep and taking over the running of the Wharf public toilets, as well as the loss of the precept support grant, meant that the council could no longer afford to provide the same level of contribution.
He said: “The town council approved its budget for 2017-18 in January and this year our budget included an amount of £12,000 towards the Christmas lights.
“Our contribution towards these events last year was £16,000.
“The BID has requested a contribution of £18,000 per annum for each of the next three years.”
Mr Peacocke said the reduction of £4,000 on the amount contributed in 2016 was less than five per cent of the total cost to the BID, thought to be around £84,000.
Mr Edwards said the town council would do “whatever it could” to see the Christmas lights continue, but admitted it would depend largely on Newbury BID.
“They agreed to take on the lighting initially and now they are trying to ask for a lot more money,” he said.
“We will have to discuss next year with the BID and we will have to discuss it within the town council in terms of what we are prepared to give them – if anything.”
Newbury BID declined to comment on the matter at this time.