Extra safety tests for Christmas lights

STRINGENT safety checks are to be carried out on the fixing units used to hold up an Essex town centre's Christmas lights after two sets came crashing down.

By Roddy Ashworth

STRINGENT safety checks are to be carried out on the fixing units used to hold up an Essex town centre's Christmas lights after two sets came crashing down.

And yesterday the Colchester Town Partnership (CTP) apologised for the incident that left shoppers stunned and closed the High Street for five hours on Monday.

The partnership, which paid around £35,000 for the installation of the lights - all of which have now been taken down - said it hoped the illuminations would be reinstated with strengthened fixing units in time for this weekend's “Christmas Countdown” events.

The planned programme involves two separate sets of independent lights being turned on - at Culver Square and Lion Walk - as well as a children's Parade of Lights along the High Street.

But organisers admitted yesterday it might not be possible to reinstall all of the partnership's illuminations in time for their scheduled switch-on on Sunday afternoon.

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Yesterday Nick Clarke, Chairman of the CTP, said the organisation deeply regretted Monday's incident and that a full investigation into how it happened was under way.

And he said it went without saying that the light fixing units that failed on Monday would be strengthened before they were reinstalled.

“We are very pleased nobody was injured. That was our first inquiry. I think the only amount of damage was to somebody's car - we are very sorry about that. My main concern is to reassure the public.”

At a press conference yesterday, Mr Clarke declined to name either the contractors or sub-contractors involved in the operation to install the lights.

But he added: “We insisted that all the appropriate paperwork and licensing was in place. This includes the fact that all the appropriate tests are carried out, and these assurances were given to us.

“The way it works is that the contractor and the sub-contractor have to make a declaration about safety.

“Once we were furnished with all the paperwork we assumed everything was okay. Clearly something has gone wrong.”

Mr Clarke added that as a result of the incident, not only would the declaration from the contractors and sub-contractors be required, but specialist officers from both Colchester Borough Council and Essex County Council would also inspect the lights' fixing units before they were deemed safe.

“From a health and safety perspective, I can assure the public that whatever goes up this weekend - or in the week after - will be safe, because there will be additional physical checks.

“As far as everybody in Colchester is concerned this is a temporary setback in a wide-ranging programme.”

As well as the Lion Walk and Culver Square lights being switched on, during the weekend's festivities the Mercury Theatre's Panto Gang will be out in force and Posh and Becks lookalikes, the town's mayor, Father Christmas and Colchester United footballers will all appear.

There will be carol singing, the Williams and Griffin Christmas window opening and a radio roadshow.

roddy.ashworth@eadt.co.uk

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