The Town Council are reviewing the town’s Christmas lighting after many residents and businesses aired their views that it was disappointing and asking why they were not nearly as nice as Marlow’s display.
Many people gave their feedback with one saying, “The appearance of the town this Christmas was poor and disappointing. Past recommendations have been ignored. Although finances have to be considered this is one time of year that money has to be spent to make Henley stand out.”
A report into to the festive lighting was reviewed by the Town Council’s Events Committee yesterday. The current festive lighting contract supplied this year by The Christmas Decorators (same contractor as Marlow) comprised of festoon lighting on Bell Street, Duke Street, Hart Street, Reading Road and Thameside; tree-wrapped lights at Northfield End, Gravel Hill, Singers Park, and Henley Bridge; snowflakes in trees at Market Place and Station Park; main Christmas tree lights and star and the small Christmas trees. Prior to this Christmas, the current contractor replaced the festoon lighting on Thameside; rewrapped trees at Gravel Hill, Northfield End, Henley Bridge, and Singers Park; and installed new cabling at Station Park, as the previous lit tree had been felled. The contractor also provided 30 new sets of lights for the main Christmas tree, and the Council also purchased a new star for the main Christmas tree, and snowflakes for the trees at Market Place and Singers Park.
There were concerns about the integrity of the cross-street festoon cables and fixings in the town centre and there have been several issues with sections of the cross-street festoon lights caused by bulbs going or issues with the electricity supply. Even after testing in the Autumn and repairs mid-season, the issues kept occurring. The festoon lighting was not switched on for the Christmas Festival on 25 November.
Town Clerk, Sheridan Jacklin-Edwards said, “We currently spend £8,000 on our lights compared to Marlow who spend 3 x that amount (£24,000). We need to look at our investment and/or sponsorship to have a better display.” In his report it stated, “The Council lacks a comprehensive asset list of its festive lighting, or details on the electricity infrastructure that powers it. As such, it can be difficult for a contractor to ensure testing and surveys are comprehensive, and to identify and rectify the source of problems when they occur. Concerns have also been raised about the physical integrity of the festoon cabling. Regardless of any improvement work, it is therefore recommended that the Council undertake an electrical survey of its infrastructure, and a survey of the cabling and infrastructure.”
Members of the Committee voted for investigations be carried out into improving the festive lighting display; and quotes be obtained for electrical and structural surveys into the festive lighting infrastructure. They would also like to see the Invesco vinyl banners changed on the main tree to be more festive next year.
A review of the small Christmas tree scheme has also been carried out by the Town Council after 21 businesses complained about the size, quality of the trees and/or the lack of lighting this year. A proposal was presented to the Events Sub Committee yesterday which proposed that the Council takes ownership of the small Christmas trees and identifies fixed points around the town centre, within the wiring system which was installed in 2014 (Duke Street, Bell Street, Hart Street and Market Place) where the trees would be installed. It was agreed that the proposal be approved in principle, subject to further investigations and final costings being brought back for consideration to the Committee. Committee Member Jim Sneddon said, “As someone who knows about Christmas trees, if you order a grade of tree the quality shouldn’t vary. The cost should be £10/foot so for a 3 foot tree about £30 retail cost (half that if buying in bulk).” The cost of the trees to the Council this year were £120 which included installation. Residents and businesses were charged £60.
Town Clerk, Sheridan Jacklin-Edwards stated in the report, “This would take away the problems of final location of trees not known until close to installation and the contractor not able to carry out many preliminary checks on the power supplies and other infrastructure.”
In the proposed new scheme, consents would be sought, and then brackets would be permanently fixed to the building. The electrical supplies would be surveyed in advance of each installation to ensure there are no issues, and a comprehensive survey of the infrastructure would take place to ensure any contractors are aware of the source of each tree’s power supply. The current brackets would be replaced as they are in poor condition and the new ones could be used for flagpoles for occasions such as the King’s Coronation.
The Council would be wholly funding the scheme, rather than paid by the hosting businesses or residents; there would be a significant cost to the Council. However, it is hoped that this could be offset through sponsorship, perhaps targeting those businesses that were chosen to host a tree. The new system would be much more attractive to contractors, with fixed positions and brackets already in situ, it is likely that the cost per tree could be significantly reduced. Businesses and residents on other streets who would still like the opportunity to buy tree, the Council would select a preferred contractor (either the same or different to the Council’s own contractor) who
would administer the scheme directly with private customers.