Counting the cost of Christmas lights

Every winter, villages, towns and cities light up with displays and decorations, which adorn high streets and town centres to celebrate the Christmas period.

But buying, installing and maintaining festive lights and decorations can cost Essex local authorities thousands of pounds.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service sent Freedom of Information requests to district and borough councils across the county to find out how much your representatives are spending on seasonal festivities.

Of the responses, the biggest spend on Christmas lights came from Colchester Borough Council, which incurred a cost of £41,100 this year.

Rolling back the clock four years, the council almost doubled this cost, spending £79,090 in 2018.

A spokesperson for Colchester Borough Council said in a statement: “The annual contract budget for the Town Centre Christmas lights and decorations is £41,000 and has been for several years.

“In 2018, the council allocated an additional £40,000 from the Better Colchester campaign for the purchase, installation, decoration and dismantling of six large Christmas trees in the Town Centre. This was a one-off expenditure, which hasn’t been repeated since.

“We recognise the importance of sharing Christmas cheer in the borough and the benefits this brings not just economically for businesses, but the general feel-good factor for residents and visitors alike.”

Basildon

Basildon Council says its expenditure on Christmas lights is £6,264.56.

This is its lowest expense since at least 2016. In both 2020 and 2019, the council spent £7,983.93, with £6,738.50 being spent in 2017 and £6,641 in 2016.

But according to its response, the council’s expenditure was far higher in 2018 because it bought new lights that year, reaching £26,883.43.

Additionally, the town held a Christmas event on November 20 2021. At the time the Freedom of Information request was sent, the costs of this event were still being finalised, but are estimated to be £20,672.

The council says it does not hold separate information for other towns in the district such as Billericay and Wickford.

Chelmsford

The Christmas lights and decorations in Chelmsford were sponsored by the Business Improvement District.

But the council said in its response it made a contribution of £30,000 towards this.

Colchester

Colchester Borough Council’s planned budget for Christmas lights and decorations is £41,000, but it spent £41,100 this year.

Over the last five years, the most expensive festive period in the city was in 2018, when the council spent £79,090 on lights, installation and the six large Christmas trees.

Comparatively, it spent £41,822.16 in 2020, £49,139 in 2019, £37,180 in 2017 and £36,459.60 in 2016.

The council says it has only had one Christmas event in the last five years, which was the Ice Slide in 2017. This cost the council £67,746.82.

Epping Forest

Information about decorative lighting services is not held by the district council. Instead, Epping Forest’s many town and parish councils are responsible for this provision.

Maldon

Maldon District Council says there is no planned budget for Christmas lights and decorations.

However, its approximate spend per year is just £200.

It also says it does not hold any switch on events.

Rochford

Rochford District Council said it does not have a specific budget for public Christmas lights or decorations and has therefore not incurred any costs.

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Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter