St Albans council threatens enforcement action over 180ft-high Christmas lights in Harpenden

The Christmas display at JMS Plant Hire which is on top of a 180ft high boom arm this year

The Christmas display at JMS Plant Hire which is on top of a 180ft high boom arm this year - Credit: Archant

It may be a boom time for Christmas lights, but that has not stopped Grinch-like efforts to pull the plug on elevated decorations in an industrial part of Harpenden.

The Christmas display at JMS Plant Hire which is on top of a 180ft high boom arm this year

The Christmas display at JMS Plant Hire which is on top of a 180ft high boom arm this year - Credit: Archant

Having started a tradition of bringing festive cheer to a drab estate six years ago, Mark Jackson, managing director of JMS Plant Hire, has once again decorated a 180ft boom with lights, Father Christmas and snowman figures and a flashing star in Coldharbour Lane.

But a complaint from a less-than-impressed neighbour has sparked a warning letter and an enforcement notice threat from St Albans district council.

The row has been followed on social media, with lots of Harpenden folk apparently ‘loving’ the decorations, while some are irritated by the lights.

Mark said: “I find it quite amusing that someone is uptight to that degree.

“I’ve been doing this for six years now. I got a phone call from the council saying someone could see the lights from their house.

“I asked, ‘You can also see the moon and stars twinkling in the sky – what is the problem?”

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The council issued him with a letter citing “concerns regarding a large cherry picker” being placed at the front of 32 Coldharbour Lane.

It added that a condition of planning permission for a change of use from general industrial to storage and distribution of plant hire stated that no equipment could be stored in front of the building.

The letter demanded Mark remove the cherry picker and that failure to comply “may result in formal enforcement action being instigated through either a breach of condition notice or enforcement notice without any further notice”.

But a determined Mark said: “I have no intention of moving the boom till the 4th of January.”

He added that having decorations 180 feet high on the cherry picker “attracts some attention I suppose, but Christmas is commercial, and the lights raise smiles; I do it because I enjoy Christmas.

“I only put the cherry picker there once a year, for a few weeks. I haven’t put it there to store it permanently. The lights are on a timer and go off at 11pm. It’s not causing any harm, so hopefully common sense will prevail.”

The Herts Advertiser understands that the soonest any enforcement action could be taken is early January.

Mark urged the authority to concentrate on more pressing matters such as allowing housing to be built on a derelict industrial estate on the other side of the River Lea, despite being located opposite busy firms such as his.

JMS is an independently run tool hire firm with 75 staff across three depots, including in Harper Lane, Radlett, where its booms are stored.

Neighbouring resident, author Carol Hedges, has spoken in favour of the decorations, pointing out they are only seasonal.

She said: “I think they are brilliant as there are no other Christmas decorations on that part of the road. There is so much doom and gloom that it is nice to have some lovely decorations to look at. Part of the entertainment is watching them trying to put the lights up; it’s hilarious!”

Tracy Harvey, the council’s head of planning and building control, said: “Our enforcement team responded to a complaint.

“Permission for storage of plant hire at the site includes the condition that equipment is not to be stored in front of the building.

“Following a site visit, a letter was sent on December 4 asking for the plant to be relocated to comply with that condition.

“We are all for celebrating Christmas but we do have a duty to uphold planning permissions.”