Cost, health and safety and policing prompt end of lights switch-on 

Remember the year? This was 2016

Remember the year? This was 2016 - Credit: Archant

Health and safety – including the ‘inability’ of police to manage the large numbers attending - are among reasons cited for cancelling the 20-year-old Christmas lights switch on in Ely.  

City of Ely Council also says the switch-on as previously run “is an extremely expensive event to fund”. 

And they argue that “city traders had not felt involved” and didn’t think it financially worthwhile to remain open on the night.  

Up to 6-8,000 regularly turned up for Ely Christmas lights switch-on

Up to 6-8,000 regularly turned up for Ely Christmas lights switch-on - Credit: Archant

The council believes a “back to grass roots” event as run last year during Covid, is the way forward. 

News of the changed format was revealed last month when Ian Newstead and his family who have helped stage the event for 20 years turned up at a council meeting.  

Cllr Dian Warman, chair of the tourism and town centre committee, said: “We did not take this decision lightly.” 

This included discussions with businesses “to ensure we not only did what was the most beneficial to the community and businesses, but which also provided value for money for all taxpayers”. 

Most Read

She added: “We know that this will be disappointing for some residents but the Christmas event will involve both the community and businesses alike and rest assured we will still have Christmas lights.  

“We know how passionate the people of Ely are about their city and hope they embrace this event like they do all the others throughout the year.  

“We would like to thank Mr Newstead and the organisers for all their help, hard work and commitment over the years.” 

In a statement the council said that because of Covid-19 both the 2020 and 2021 switch-on events were cancelled.  

But last year it was agreed to have a “different kind of event, that would not draw large crowds to the city, which an actual switch-on event would have done.   

“It was agreed to have a shopping event at Oliver Cromwell’s House, with stalls of local businesses and charity organisations and groups, inside and outside of the house.   

“This was also in conjunction with city traders, who were offering discounts with a shopping trail map provided by Oliver Cromwell’s House”. 

Acts such as this appeared on stage at Ely Christmas lights switch-on. But no more 

Acts such as this appeared on stage at Ely Christmas lights switch-on. But no more - Credit: Archant

The council says it was extremely successful with a footfall of 1,800. 

“It was also well managed and followed Government guidance in relation to Covid-19 at that time,” said the statement. 

“This resulted in a much lower risk to the general public than a large switch-on event.” 

The council reviewed it and questioned whether it was “necessary to have such a large expenditure event in 2022.   

Acts such as this appeared on stage at Ely Christmas lights switch-on. But no more 

Acts such as this appeared on stage at Ely Christmas lights switch-on. But no more - Credit: Archant

“Covid-19 guidance had been relaxed and although things could change before a possible planned switch-on event in November 2022, this is obviously not something that can be predicted at this time.” 

The council says members decided unanimously not to hold a switch-on event as before but to develop the shopping event.  

They decided that: 

1: Events at Oliver Cromwell’s House had already proven popular and by focusing on that it would ensure the council’s spending is well used, benefit residents and give best value. 

Ely lights switch on

Ely lights switch on - Credit: Archant

2: The switch-On event, although extremely popular, bringing a large number of people to the city centre, both from the city and surrounding parishes, is an extremely expensive event to fund.   

The net cost of the event in 2019 was £8,889 (exc VAT).  

“The duration of the event is approximately 3-4 hours,” says the council.  

“Sponsorship cannot always be guaranteed, which would mean if the budgeted amount were not achieved, this then increases the expenditure incurred by the council and puts it at increased financial risk.” 

3: There was concern that the switch-on event, which has continued to grow, had meant an increased health and safety risk to the public, due to the larger numbers in attendance and the inability to be able to monitor these numbers 

Acts such as this appeared on stage at Ely Christmas lights switch-on. But no more 

Acts such as this appeared on stage at Ely Christmas lights switch-on. But no more - Credit: Archant

4: City traders had not felt involved in the event and did not feel it was financially worth their while to keep their shops open longer than usual on the switch-on evening during the event.   

The council statement said: “As Covid has shown, back to grass roots, supporting the community organisations (using local talent) and charities etc and working with our High Street businesses has been very successful and the council wants to build on this.”    

The council thanked the organisers of the switch-on and were “extremely grateful” for their efforts. 

But they felt it right to “move forward in a different direction for this event in order to benefit the community as a whole”.