How much does your council spend on Christmas lights?
Maya Derrick and Matthew Smith, local democracy reporter
- Credit: Stephanie Belton/Supplied
For many of us, the first sign Christmas is coming is when decorations start to light up our high streets and town centres.
Whether a local celebrity has been roped in to switch on the lights, or the town has invested in Christmas markets or brand new lights, most of our councils have worked hard to bring a bit of festive spirit to Hertfordshire - especially after last year’s celebrations were cut short.
It might not be in the spirit of Christmas, but whether in awe or shock, we’ve all walked past a display and thought ‘how much have they paid for this?!’
All the borough and district councils in Herts were sent a Freedom of Information request (FOI) to find out what they had budgeted for Christmas lights and decorations, as well as the cost of any events this winter.
The figures revealed that some of the authorities with bigger towns have prioritised events to bring people back to the town centre, while others leave the planning to parish councils instead and provide cash grants to ensure everything runs smoothly.
The biggest spenders are seemingly Welwyn Hatfield, who have budgeted just over £57,000 for events and lights this winter, which has included impressive large light displays in town centres.
Each authority had slightly different approaches to working out budgets, so they aren’t like-for-like comparisons, but it will give you an idea of just how much of your council tax has been spent on the tree this year.
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East Herts and Hertsmere
These councils confirmed that they do not have a budget for Christmas lighting or events, and this fell to the local town or parish council instead. The councils were unable to provide any figures as part of the request.
Hitchin, Royston and Baldock all receive £2,000 grants from the district council towards the provision and decoration of a town Christmas tree.
North Herts Council arranges the erection and decoration of the Christmas tree in Broadway Gardens in Letchworth, and also gifts and arrange the erection of a Christmas tree for Garden House Hospice.
The council is unable to provide a breakdown of costs of decorating the district, and said the street scene decorations are not arranged by the council.
For example, Hitchin's tree is part funded by North Herts Council, with the Business Improvement District (BID) collaborating with the council to bring the festivities to the market town.
Hitchin BID also were involved in the Christmas lights switch-on event.
The forecast spend for this Christmas by the district council is £12,700, including the grants for trees. In 2020/21 the council’s outturn for Christmas was £11,813 and in 2019/20 it was £14,328.
Thousands of people attended St Albans’ Christmas Cracker event in November, which brought plenty of festive cheer to the city centre.
Organised by the district council, the event saw the city's Christmas lights lit up in phases to avoid encouraging large crowd to gathering in one place and promote COVID safety.
St Albans District Council confirmed the budget for the free event was £28,180 – which was calculated from the expense budget minus the income expected.
The council added it was not able to provide any figures for any other events and lights in 2021, as these will be arranged by respective town and parish councils. The authority added that in 2020 spending for Christmas lights was £17,038, with £19,160 spent in 2019.
Stevenage Borough Council had to abandon its light switch-on this year, due to high winds in late November.
This year's event kicked off in the Town Square at noon as planned, and was set to see a host of live performances before the switch-on at 6pm. The event was stopped at 3.45pm on health and safety grounds.
Before the event was de-railed by the weather, the council were set to spend £13,905 on the show, including a total of £6,285 on entertainment and fireworks.
For other lights and decorations, the borough council don’t have a budget set in advance for 2021, but confirmed in 2020 £23,429 was spent in total on their Christmas illuminations, with £37,403.56 spent in 2019.
This is for the total cost of operating the decorations during the festive period, including power and set-up. The council confirmed they had not spent any money on replacement or new lights since 2018
The biggest spender in the county, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council’s website said it is “stepping up” seasonal activities to make up for last year, and that’s reflected in the planned spending.
The council has budgeted £57,090 for Christmas decorations and events this year, up from £36,953 in 2020. That’s still down on £79,328.25 spent in 2019 on decorations and events, but it’s still the largest budget confirmed by a council in Hertfordshire.
The borough council was unable to provide a breakdown between money spent in Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield, or other towns within the area.