Enchanted Garden price rise agreed for Antrim and Newtownabbey festive showpiece
Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council is to spend £20k on a television advertising campaign for a festive visitor attraction despite opposition.
There were also objections from councillors to raising the cost of admission to the Enchanted Garden event to be held in Antrim Castle Gardens in the run-up to Christmas, at a meeting of the local authority on Monday evening.
In 2019, the event was attended by 86,000 visitors bringing in a revenue of £350,000, councillors were told.
Seventy-seven per cent of those in attendance visited from outside the borough.
The council anticipates 7,500 people will attend each evening of this year’s event.
The Enchanted Winter Garden event commenced in 2013 and was free of charge for the first four years before a charge of £2 for adults and £1 for children was introduced.
Antrim Alliance Councillor Neil Kelly pointed out that the proposed new charge would be a 400 per cent increase.
He also stated: “It is a fantastic event. In my opinion, I feel it is unique and something that is available to everybody. I am just worried we will leave people behind.
“We are not competing with large scale corporate events, it is a council event for the ratepayer. I propose we keep the prices as they are at £5 for adults and £3 for children.”
Dunsilly SDLP Cllr Ryan Wilson said: “I would be happy to second Cllr Kelly’s proposal. I would like to take the opportunity to welcome progress that has been made on delivering this year’s event.
“A lot of families will be eager to attend. We should facilitate as many as we can.”
He urged any price increase not to proceed “given serious economic difficulties” with “the end of furlough, Universal Credit being cut by £20 per week, gas price increases and back to school costs”.
“The impact of this pandemic has had significant impact on children and young people. It is imperative to do all we can to support young people to ensure it does not become a barrier to entry.”
Antrim SDLP Cllr Roisin Lynch said: “It is primarily an event for our children and our families. To be raising entry charges would be penalising groups we want to encourage to come.”
Glengormley Alliance Alderman Julian McGrath described it as an “absolutely fantastic event offering value for money compared to other events”.
“I feel we need to offer something slightly different to other providers to our residents. The price of £5 and £3 is fairer. By offering a leaner price, we are making it more accessible than other events it is compared to.”
Antrim DUP Ald John Smyth questioned why the council was spending £20k on television advertising when there is “such demand for the event”.
“Maybe we could save money that way,” he commented.
Antrim Ulster Unionist Cllr Jim Montgomery suggested a review of the Enchanted Winter Garden event next year in relation to facilities and prices.
“There is no doubt it has been a success. We have seen the quality of the event increase but we also can’t stand still or it will turn stale and will drive people away.
“I believe we need to have a realistic look to see how we can progress this event. It would be a shame to lose such a good event by thinking small scale.”
He stressed the importance of “keeping it modern and keeping it relevant”.
Ballyclare Ulster Unionist Cllr Norrie Ramsay commented: “Increasing fees would enable TV advertising.”
Glengormley Ulster Unionist Ald Mark Cosgrove stated: “Without a price increase, we would be unable to afford the additional expense of TV advertising.
“This is a proposal for recovery of this event with still uncertain circumstances.”
He also pointed out that the council may need to provide a park-and-ride bus. He warned that if there is no cost increase, the ratepayer will be “faced with a substantial bill”.
Airport Sinn Fein Cllr Annemarie Logue commented: “We need to be mindful that we are still in the middle of a pandemic. Costs will be increased to keep restrictions in place. We also have to strike a balance with affordability. Families are struggling. We have to be cost effective but also affordable.”
She suggested increasing costs by 50 pence instead.
Chief executive Jacqui Dixon said: “It is important to note that 80 per cent of people attending come from outside the borough. We have people coming from outside the town and spending in the town centre.”
Threemilewater Cllr Mark Cooper BEM said he did not want to price anybody out from attending the event.
Antrim Ulster Unionist Cllr Leah Smyth remarked: “I do not see how a TV ad campaign is really needed. It has been successful for years. We can’t justify such a steep price increase when we look at spending £20k on a campaign we do not really need.
“There may need to be a slight increase but what is in front of us is a bit too steep.”
Glengormley Ald Phillip Brett said it is “easy for people to say they can’t justify costs going up” but this would “pass on more costs to the electorate and local businesses”.
He proposed an amended increase of £1 for adults and children seconded by Ald Cosgrove raising admission to £6 and £4 respectively.
This increase was approved following a vote of 20 in favour and 15 against.
Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter
-- Click here to read: ‘Large scale’ festive switch on programme agreed for Glengormley and Antrim
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