Mystery solved! Why St Albans Christmas lights have changed this year

PUBLISHED: 15:11 20 November 2019 | UPDATED: 15:11 20 November 2019

Colour-changing Christmas lights were featured in the trees of St Peter's Street for two years. Photo: Alastair Woodgate

Colour-changing Christmas lights were featured in the trees of St Peter's Street for two years. Photo: Alastair Woodgate

Archant

Spectacular Christmas lights adorning the trees in St Peter's Street are notable by their absence after two years of wowing crowds - but an explanation for the change has now been provided by a city centre business group.

Colour-changing Christmas lights were featured in the trees of St Peter's Street for two years. Photo: Alastair WoodgateColour-changing Christmas lights were featured in the trees of St Peter's Street for two years. Photo: Alastair Woodgate

The St Albans Business Improvement District (BID), which represents commercial organisations within the city centre, was forced to take drastic action after discovering the lights and electrical infrastructure would not work this year, less than two months before last Sunday's big Christmas Cracker event.

The colour-changing fairy lights were intended to last for three years, having first been unveiled in 2017, and should therefore have featured this festive season.

But as a BID board spokesperson explained: "What was intended to last for three years lasted only for two. Buses and other tall vehicles have damaged or destroyed branches, wires have perished and trees have grown, snapping wires. The electricity supply also does not appear to have been fit for purpose.

"We were presented with this information so late in the day that as far as the lights were concerned it was looking doubtful that there was any hope of retrieving the situation for this Christmas."

One of the new St Albans installations. Picture: Laura BillOne of the new St Albans installations. Picture: Laura Bill

Although quarterly testing of the lights had taken place throughout the year, the board was not made aware of the severity of the degradation until September, at which point they moved into disaster recovery mode.

The warranty for the original lights has now expired, but the contractor responsible for the infrastructure has promised to make good any workmanship issues, but unfortunately not until the New Year.

To ensure there was something engaging on St Peter's Street in a short time frame resulted in extra BID money being spent on alternative large-scale installations, including an illuminated dome and vintage car, and strings of lights on the streetlamps.

The spokesperson revealed: "This has been paid for with the existing BID levy at no extra cost to businesses or ratepayers. Additional financial support has come from Morgan Sindall and KP Waste.

"These new festive features - unveiled at the Christmas Cracker event - are proving to add cheer to the street scene and all our shoppers and visitors. There is a new interactive approach to the lights and a sleigh load (and stocking full) of events and community-focused activities to help get footfall into the city centre, supporting local business, which is exactly what the BID is for.

"In reality, the trees were not thriving with the lights and the cost to replace them when they fail is expensive, plus they were only able to be used at Christmas. The intention now is to have canned/spotlights on the ground, with colour gels, which will shine up into the tree canopies and can be used to enhance the street scene throughout the year."

They added: "The plan for Christmas 2020 is to seek to avoid spending levypayers' money on making the existing infrastructure fit for purpose. The BID board will be having a meeting with Hertfordshire County Council and St Albans City and District Council in January to discuss a reallocation of costs and responsibility.

"We will also have a forum in January to look at how our other fantastic streets can be better showcased, lit up and promoted, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year."

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