Christmas events plan for St Albans should be drawn up

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News release: 14 March 2019

A masterplan to improve Christmas events in the St Albans District over the next few years should be drawn up by key groups.

Scene from Christmas Market 2018
The idea follows difficulties encountered last year by the Meraki Christmas Festival in Verulamium Park and the Christmas Market in Vintry Garden.

Members of the Community, Environment and Sport Scrutiny Committee of St Albans City and District Council discussed the issues involved at a meeting on Thursday 7 March.

They recommended a number of actions should be undertaken by the Council’s Portfolio Holder for Business and the Community, Councillor Salih Gaygusuz. 

These included the production of a comprehensive Christmas events plan to cover the next three to five years.

This should be devised in cooperation with St Albans BID, an organisation that seeks to promote the interests of local business, the Cathedral Chapter and other interested group.

Councillors also recommended that future events should comply with a number of guiding principles.

Among these are a commitment to ensuring events make use of historic buildings. They should also be cost effective, accessible, family friendly and appealing to all generations.

Members also welcomed a review of the Council events protocol for Verulamium Park and other venues that is currently being undertaken

A meeting of the Committee on Wednesday 17 July will consider the progress that has been made with its recommendations.

Councillor Anthony Rowlands, the Committee’s Chair, said: “Christmas is a vital time for many of our shops, restaurants and other local businesses.

“It is important that we stage attractive events and create a festive atmosphere in our City Centre for residents and visitors to experience and enjoy.

“Unfortunately, the Christmas offering in St Albans this year fell short of expectations and was rather disappointing. Consultation about the events in Verulamium Park was woeful.

“The Committee’s view was that we need to have a complete re-think and produce a detailed plan covering the next three to five years. That way we should avoid the late decision making which beset the 2018 events and achieve much firmer budgetary control.

“In doing so, we need to work together with residents’ associations as well as St Albans BID and the Cathedral authorities to ensure that the plan has widespread community support.

“I hope the Community and Business Portfolio Holder takes up this recommendation and we will check on progress at our July meeting.”

Private firm Meraki was due to hold a Christmas Festival, featuring fairground rides and other attractions, in Verulamium Park for three weeks from Friday 30 November last year.

The Council agreed to allow the company to manage its annual Christmas Market and make it part of the Festival.

However, planning and licensing permissions were not completed in time and the festival did not open at the park until Saturday 8 December. The delay resulted in the market being switched to Vintry Garden.

The Committee meeting was addressed by representatives of several local groups who gave their views on last year’s Christmas Festival.

Peter Trevelyan, Chair of the Abbey Precincts Residents’ Association, said it had been the wrong event in the wrong location.  

He said there had not been enough public consultation beforehand while holding it in the Water Meadow conflicted with plans to revitalise the River Ver and improve wildlife.

Ian Smith spoke on behalf of residents of Pondwicks Close, a road adjacent to Verulamium Park, close to the festival site.

He said the feeling among them was that a Christmas Festival or Market belonged in the City Centre rather than the park.

Martin Goodman, the Chair of the nearby Abbey Theatre, said Verulamium Park’s Water Meadow should not become an “events meadow.” 

Councillor contact:
Anthony Rowlands, Chair of the Community, Environment and Sport Scrutiny Committee: 07761-232064; anthonyrowlands@hotmail.com

Media contact: 
John McJannet, Principal Communications Officer, St Albans City and District Council: 01727-296130; john.mcjannet@stalbans.gov.uk