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Fears over festive light charges

PUBLISHED: 09:57 30 January 2008 | UPDATED: 19:35 05 July 2010

Christmas lights displays are being put in jeopardy by health-and-safety rulings that could spark huge bills for festive decorations.

Town councils and festive-lights committees across Suffolk are braced for bills hundreds of pounds higher than they have been paying.

Christmas lights displays are being put in jeopardy by health-and-safety rulings that could spark huge bills for festive decorations.

Town councils and festive-lights committees across Suffolk are braced for bills hundreds of pounds higher than they have been paying.

And it is causing a headache for organisers who are left wondering how they can meet the costs for the displays in December, while town councils have already prepared their year's budget without realising they would be hit by big costs.

Suffolk County Council has written to organisations which run festive lights to warn them it is reviewing its guidelines and charges. A final decision will be made later in the year, but it has suggested they budget for £60 per 10 decorations. One problem is the lack of clarity over what exactly is defined as one decoration. But it seems certain that the charges will be many times more than the current licensing fee, which for most towns is £50 or £55.

A county council spokesman said “As a result of the recent publication of the new code of practice concerning the installation of festive decorations, the county council will be reviewing all current document-ation and licence charges. The money goes towards the cost of inspecting the decorations for reasons of safety.” She said the code of practice was a national publication by the Institute of Lighting Engineers (ILE).

But Dave Coathan, technical manager for the ILE, said the code of practice had been available since at least May. He said: “It is not mandatory; it is has been written to advise local authorities how to deal with seasonal decorations. It is up to each local authority whether to implement it or not.”

The code is the second edition of a publication which has been available for many years. The new edition has more guidance on the fixings which attach lights to buildings.

Sue Allen, chairman of Southwold's Christmas lights committee, said she planned to get together with her counterparts to discuss the way forward. “It would be a terrible disaster if towns couldn't afford to have Christmas lights. It sounds like they are making money to me. The problem is that the public who help us with fundraising don't like it if they are paying for bureaucracy.”

Beccles town clerk Berenice Broom said: “We have to take it very seriously. Anything that makes a difference to our budget matters.”

Bungay town councillor Arthur Fisher said: “We raise money for the lights in the town and we cannot do it.”

Norfolk County Council also licenses decorations on its property, such as street lights, or strung across roads. It also carries out safety inspections and does not generally charge, although it reserves the right to do so. Spokesman Steven Reilly said there were “no immediate plans” to change the policy.

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