It’s like Christmas come early, as lights switch-on is brought forward

Written by Peter Davison.


The 2014 Christmas lights being switched onThe 2014 Christmas lights being switched onThe jingle jangle of sleigh bells and the ho ho ho-ing of Father Christmas will be coming to Marlborough a little earlier this year.

Civic leaders have decided that the annual illumination of High Street will be held on Friday, November 20.

Traditionally, the ceremony has taken place on the last Thursday in November, but last year the event was moved to a Friday to meet the demands of parents who didn’t want to keep their children up late on a school night.

Moving the event forward by a week will keep the Christmas lights in step with other local market towns, Marlborough’s Town Team – a forum of councillors and business leaders – heard on Thursday.

The Christmas lights event is now run by Marlborough Town Council, supported by Rotary and the Lions Club.

The festive Communities Market, which has been an attraction at the event for the past three years, is being replaced by a Wiltshire Council-run market.

The Showmen’s Guild will be bringing fairground rides for children, and local musicians, singers and dancers will have the chance to perform from a stage in the High Street.

There has been some discussion over the necessary replacement of the town’s blue and white Christmas lights, which will be nine years old this year.

The lights were originally purchased by the Marlborough Christmas Lights Association in 2006, after the town’s Chamber of Commerce said it could no longer afford to erect or insure the strings of coloured bulbs that preceded them.

Traders raised £20,000 to purchase the lights, but following the economic downturn in 2008 the Association found it more and more difficult to fund the £10,000 display, and in 2011 the Town Council voted to bail-out the illuminations after the Association folded. The Christmas lights have been paid for by Marlborough taxpayers ever since.

But traders could soon be picking up the tab again. The Town Council and the Chamber of Commerce wants to create a Business Improvement District – or BID – a nationally-recognised device which allows towns to collect cash from shops and offices on top of their business rates.

The meeting was addressed by Carolyn Brownell, manager of the newly-launched Chippenham BID; one of around 300 in the country.

Carolyn explained to the Town Team how an additional fee on top of the Business Rates is used to fund initiatives to increase trade, from marketing and advertising town centres and putting on special events to funding initiatives like Free After Three parking, which has been widely welcomed in Salisbury.

The Marlborough Town Team is already some way down the road to creating its own BID. It has defined the BID area – the Town Centre, not the Business Park – and has asked Wiltshire Council to crunch the numbers to determine how much a BID scheme might raise annually.

The next hurdle will be to put the scheme to a vote. The Town Team will need to get more than 50 percent of businesses to support the idea of paying slightly more in their business rates. A second count will be taken according to businesses rateable value, and again a vote of more than 50 percent must be achieved.

It was generally agreed that the replacement of the Christmas Lights, and their ongoing maintenance, should be high on the list of priorities for the BID.

But ultimately that decision will rest with the business community – if a BID scheme is adopted, it will be up to those paying in to decide how best to put the funds to use.