Council to axe 18 Christmas trees in cost-saving move

Ballyclare Christmas tree 2017.
Ballyclare Christmas tree 2017.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council is to dramatically reduce the number of Christmas trees it puts up in a bid to cut spending.

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

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

Before the vote, Alliance councillor 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.

This was seconded by Sinn Fein’s 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.

“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.”

She received support from UUP councillor Mervyn Rea who desrcibed Crumlin as the ‘fastest-growing small town in western Europe’.

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

The DUP’s Phillip Brett proposed the council should adopt the option to reduce the number of trees by 18 as part of cost cutting measures.

“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.”

After councillor Webb’s amendment to include Crumlin failed, the original proposal was carried, with 19 voting in favour, 16 against, and two abstaining.

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

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.”