Christmas trees to be axed across borough

Ballyclare Christmas tree 2017.
Ballyclare Christmas tree 2017.

Elected representatives have voted to dramatically reduce the number of Christmas trees in the borough in a bid to cut council spending.

The move, which will come into effect next year, will see the number of Christmas trees reduced from 22 to four.

Cllr Phillip Brett.

Cllr Phillip Brett.

During a lengthy debate on the issue at the November meeting of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, members voted to continue having council funded trees and high profile switch-on events in Antrim, Ballyclare, Glengormley and Randalstown.

Before the controversial vote was taken, Alliance representative, Cllr Billy Webb had called for a review to look into adding Crumlin on the basis that it is a town, but still keeping it within the budget of £230,000.

Cllr Webb said: “The whole division needs to be looked at in light of the £230,000 budget.”

This amendment was seconded by Sinn Fein representative, Cllr Annemarie Logue, who said: “I’d like members to bear in mind that there are five major towns in this borough, including Crumlin and also that Crumlin is the only event in the Airport Ward.

Cllr Annemarie Logue

Cllr Annemarie Logue

“I would like the council officers to go back and look at the five options, looking at the £250,000 and I’m sure costs can be cut across the board.”

Supporting the points raised by Cllr Logue, UUP representative, Cllr Mervyn Rea said: “We are one borough, but I think Cllr Logue has made a very valid point in saying that there are five towns, so that’s how I look at it.

“Crumlin has been renowned as the fastest-growing small town in Western Europe. There is a vast population and I think it is wrong to just disregard it.

“Looking at it on merit, we do have five towns and I don’t see why one should be scored out.”

Proposing the council should adopt the option to reduce the number of trees as part of cost cutting measures, DUP representative, Cllr Phillip Brett said: “Christmas is an important aspect of what the council does, but it’s not a core service of what we’re required to deliver and from my point of view, I’d rather see a quarter of a million saved on this issue than on leisure centres or on the great capital projects that have been progressed and planned for the years ahead.”

This was seconded by his party colleague, Cllr Nigel Kells.

A total of 18 members voted in favour of Cllr Webb’s amendment, while 18 voted against it. Cllr David Hollis (TUV) abstained from the vote.

The amendment failed after Mayor, Cllr Paul Hamill used his casting vote to vote against it.

A vote was then taken on Cllr Brett’s proposal. It carried with 19 voting in favour, 16 against and two abstaining.

A number of members voiced their frustration on the omission of Crumlin.

Sinn Fein representative, Cllr Michael Goodman called for an equality impact assessment to be conducted while his colleague, Cllr Logue, said: “I hope every politician who voted against this is equally as proud to stand up and face the people of Crumlin when they’re told they can’t have a Christmas switch on next year.”

Commenting on the move, a council spokesperson said: “The council has recently been conducting a review of expenditure due to the recent refund of rates of approximately £1M which is due to Belfast International Airport, over which the council has no control.

“This had identified that over recent years, the council’s spend on Christmas events had increased to approximately £460,000 per year. As a result of this review, in September 2017, the council agreed to reduce its expenditure on Christmas events in the future by 50 per cent to £230,000.

“At the recent council meeting, the council considered two options for the provision of Christmas events and agreed a revised future Christmas Programme.

“This will result in a reduction in the number of locations currently provided with Christmas Trees, festive lighting and Christmas switch on events from 22 to four across the borough.”

The spokesperson added: “The Christmas programme for 2018 will also continue to include other key community events such as tea dances, carol services, and the increasingly popular Enchanted Winter Gardens event.

“The council is committed to the delivery of its 2017 Christmas Programme, which is continuing as planned.

“Groups in the borough will also be able to continue to apply under the Community Festivals Fund Programme for Christmas activities in the future.”