Businesses must be consulted about Christmas programme
Businesses should be consulted about last year’s Christmas events programme in St Albans City Centre, a Council Committee has said.
Councillors want to hear the views of shops, restaurants, pubs, cafes and other enterprises about the impact of the 2019 festive season activities and what improvements are needed.
They want St Albans Business Improvement District (BID) to survey their members to acquire the feedback.
The Committee also asked for new sources of funding to be sought, particularly for events that are likely to boost trade at shops.
A report on last year’s Christmas events and plans for this year was given to a meeting of St Albans City and District Council’s Community, Environment and Sport Scrutiny Committee.
A business survey and a search for new funding were among the recommendations that will now be put forward to the Council’s Portfolio Holder for Business, Culture and Tourism.
Councillors on the Committee also called for the Christmas Cracker, an enhanced lights switch-on event, to return to the City Centre this year after a successful trial.
The street festival, the first of its kind, was organised by the Council and was intended to launch last year’s festive season in spectacular style.
Among the attractions were live music, scores of market stalls, funfair rides and street performers.
Much of the family-friendly entertainment was free with the highlight of the event on Sunday 17 November being the switching on of Christmas lights on St Peter’s Street and the Clock Tower along with other illuminations.
Councillor Annie Brewster, the Committee’s Chair, said after the meeting on Thursday 16 January:
For several years a continental-style Christmas Market in Vintry Garden was the main focal point for the festive season in St Albans. It was a reason for people to come here.
That market wasn’t held last year and there was concern that it might be missed. We now need to make a major effort to find out how successful 2019 was for our businesses and the local economy with the festive season being so important for their financial health.
The Committee felt we desperately need detailed feedback from local businesses so we can plan effectively for Christmas 2020.
I also share the concern, expressed at the meeting, that we did not replace the Market with events that had the wow factor and could attract visitors throughout the critical festive period.
The Christmas Cracker’s trial run was a success, but our shops, restaurants and pubs can’t rely on one single big event. We need to find out from our businesses what else they need to compete with other town and city centres in addition to our Christmas Charter Market.
In doing so, we need to work in close partnership with St Albans BID and other organisations with the aim of making St Albans a top visitor destination at Christmas.
I hope the Portfolio Holder will accept these recommendations, so we can press ahead effectively with that objective.
The report revealed that of visitors surveyed at the Christmas Cracker, 94% gave it a rating of four or five out of five. The net cost to the Council of the event was £16,000, although the figure that has yet to be finalised.
Councillors recommended that the Cracker continue to be financed by the Council and organised by the Council’s Community Engagement team.
They also said that the team should continue supporting St Albans BID and other partners in developing the Christmas programme.
This would include continuing to work with a steering group that was set up last year to co-ordinate activities and included representatives from pubs, retailers, the local media and other organisations.
Councillors backed a proposal that this year’s Christmas brochure should be produced and funded by St Albans BID rather than the Council, though Council officers would be consulted.
They also said BID should take the lead in funding other improved City Centre events over Christmas, again in consultation with the Council
They further recommended that the Christmas programme should continue to aim to support charitable causes, sustainability and the engagement of the whole community.