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Anger Over Christmas Lights Event Decision – For Reasons of Crowd Safety, Says GBC

Published on: 5 Aug, 2022
Updated on: 5 Aug, 2022

Switching on the Christmas lights in Guildford High Street, in 2017. By 2019 the crowds had grown in size to an estimated 7,000 provoking a safety review commissioned by GBC.

By Martin Giles

An online row has broken out over Guildford Borough Council’s decision not to hold a Christmas Lights switch-on event in Guildford High Street this year.

The Covid pandemic was given as the reason that events could not be held for the last two years although there was some criticism of the decision from the Conservative group at Millmead not to hold the event in 2021.

Prior to the pandemic, the event was growing in popularity with thousands in the High Street to see the celebrity switch-on.

Cllr Joss Bigmore

In a press release, GBC leader Joss Bigmore said: “Traditionally, we organised a Christmas lights switch-on event with Experience Guildford, our town centre Business Improvement District (BID). The free-to-attend event was a couple of hours long. It grew so large we had over 7,000 people tightly packed into the High Street.

“In 2019, we commissioned a safety review of the event to provide assurance that everyone attending was safe. We have been unable to celebrate in the same way for the past few years. This has given us time to reflect on how to mark the start of festivities for everyone.”

Nick Wyschna

But on the Guildford Past & Present Facebook page, Guildford Fringe founder Nick Wyschna said: “For the past five or six years we have been one of the main organisers of the Christmas Lights Switch-on in Guildford alongside Experience Guildford (the BID), Guildford Borough Council (the owners of the event) and a few other partners.

“We have been asked by many people now what is happening for this year‘s event so we thought we better let you know.

“Guildford Borough Council has decided to cancel the Christmas Light Switch-on. If you want a reason you will need to get in touch with your local GBC councillor as to be honest we are not really clear.”

Readers’ comments that followed Nick Wyschna’s statement included: [GBC]”Keeps taking your council tax – keeps providing inadequate service!” and “Don’t worry – this post is a mistruth. The lights will be switched on, it will just be a different event, still funded by GBC so no idea what the fuss is about.”

And today the board of Experience Guildford weighed in saying: “We were extremely disappointed with the decision taken by Guildford Borough Council not to go ahead with the traditional Christmas light switch-on event this year.

“We would like to make it clear that this was a unilateral decision taken by the council and that no input was sought from Experience Guildford. Had our opinion been requested we would have confirmed most robustly the town’s collective desire to have an event on the High Street as in past years.

“Experience Guildford is dedicated to attracting as many people as possible into our wonderful town centre and we will of course enthusiastically support any alternative events and plans.”

The Christmas lights switch-on in 2018.

Although the traditional Christmas Lights event will not be held, GBC is planning other events. Joss Bigmore said that the council wanted residents to be able to enjoy the proceedings safely while getting good value for taxpayers’ money and wanted to support the town centre’s retail and hospitality businesses, some of which are said to be very unhappy with the switch-on decision, despite luke-warm comments expressed in past years.

Cllr Bigmore continued: “We are creating a new Christmas experience for Guildford this year. You can look forward to a long weekend dedicated to launching the festive season in November. They’ll be fun family activities, music, performances, interactive theatre, a market and Christmas trees. Our beautiful Christmas lights will be lit throughout the town.

“We have a month of markets from Christmas crafts and Brocantes, to Ethical Vegan and fantastic Farmers’ Produce. Our shopping centres have some special events planned too. Don’t worry if you’d prefer to just watch the World Cup. Lots of town centre pubs and bars will be showing the football from 21 November to 18 December.”

“The council faces significant financial challenges. Despite this, we have protected our budget for Christmas celebrations and have not reduced it. However, we cannot deliver a Christmas Lights Switch on event safely for the anticipated size of the crowd.”

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Responses to Anger Over Christmas Lights Event Decision – For Reasons of Crowd Safety, Says GBC

  1. Valerie Thompson Reply

    August 5, 2022 at 9:28 pm

    What a bizarre decision. If the borough council is going to hold a lot of other events what is the problem with a gathering of local people enjoying the lights being turned on? It’s not even saving money.

  2. Peta Malthouse Reply

    August 6, 2022 at 12:38 pm

    The switch-on used to involve a few hundred attendees. but if 7,000 turm up in the High Street then such a large gathering has to be catered for. Policing, crowd control and first aid provision are all required.

    Being a public authority brings with it responsibilities others do not even have to think about. The clue here is that an assessment was commissioned.

    How much additional money had to be found to hold the event safely?

    I used to be part of the arrangement for the torchlight parade and bonfire at Normandy. We had nowhere near 7,000 visitors but in order to operate, we needed the help of the police and St John’s Ambulance. There may be very good reasons why it can’t happen. It won’t have been cancelled just for the sake of it

  3. Craig Ellis Reply

    August 7, 2022 at 6:32 pm

    “GBC cancels event which could bring thousands to currently struggling town centre.”

    Way to go!

    Cost of safety is such a pathetically poor excuse, particularly when you see how profligate the council is in other areas. Following that logic then perhaps we should simply cancel all public events “just to be sure”, or maybe they could start counting people in and out of the High Street on a Saturday just in case it becomes too busy.

    Or, perhaps they simply realised there weren’t enough toilet facilities anymore…

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