Mayor defends £25k spend on shopping centre Christmas grotto

The Arc shopping centre in Bury St Edmunds is full of festive sparkle with the Christmas lights now

The Arc shopping centre in Bury St Edmunds last Christmas when the lights were turned on. - Credit: Archant

The Mayor of Bury St Edmunds has defended town council funding towards a shopping centre's Christmas grotto following a further attack over the plans.

Bury St Edmunds Town Council's granting of £25,000 towards a winter wonderland at the old Topshop unit at the Arc has proved controversial, with some branding it a "complete waste" of taxpayers' money.

The ticket price of £10 has also come under fire in the current climate of rising energy bills and fuel prices and the ending of the £20 Universal Credit (UC) uplift.

Businessman Frank Stennett, of Stennetts Transport based near Bury St Edmunds, said families were facing a "perfect storm" this winter and is calling on the town council to give the £25,000 to foodbanks instead.

The Arc shopping centre in Bury St Edmunds is full of festive sparkle with the Christmas lights now on. Picture: SARAH...

The Arc shopping centre will host a Christmas grotto this year that is partially funded by Bury St Edmunds Town Council - Credit: Archant

Councillor Peter Thompson, mayor and leader of Bury St Edmunds Town Council, stressed the town council already supports those in need in the community and will continue to do so, for example through its recipe cards and ingredients packs around Christmas time.

He said the main idea of the festive grotto was to bring people into the town and support businesses, helping to protect people's jobs.

He added: "It's not an 'either or'. That is a project we have put forward to support local businesses and alongside have other projects already in the pipeline."

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He added the town council had been a great supporter of Gatehouse "for years" and other local foodbanks.

Peter Thompson, the mayor of Bury St Edmunds and Conservative councillor for Moreton Hall, said residents should not be...

Peter Thompson, Mayor of Bury St Edmunds and Conservative councillor for Moreton Hall - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Organisations in the town are bringing forward festive events in place of the award-winning Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre, which is cancelled for a second year running.

Mr Thompson said the Arc grotto was a partnership project and commended the shopping centre for helping to support the town.

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"It [the grotto] costs a lot of money because it has to be special to bring people in," he said. 

He believes the ticket price is reasonable considering what is on offer and with the aim of attracting people from outside of the town.

Santa's little helpers outside his grotto on day three of the Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre 2019.

A grotto at the Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre 2019 - Credit: Archant

A report that went to town council said children would have the opportunity to
walk through the wonderland before meeting Father Christmas in his living room and receiving a high-quality gift.

Mr Stennett, a councillor on Fornham St Martin cum Genevieve Parish Council, said he was "not trying to deny people having a good Christmas," but is opposed to taxpayers' money being used to support a grotto at a private shopping centre with tickets at £10.

Mr Stennett said he would formally write to the town council to express his views.

Town Clerk Greg Luton said: "As with all council decisions, we will continue to review the situation. Clearly, there are strong views that have been expressed in social media and it is likely that representations will be made at future council meetings."

Previously, a spokesperson for the Arc said they were committed to investing in the town and were grateful for partnerships there that allow them to work together to make the town a great success, especially this Christmas.

Town councillor Diane Hind, who is also Labour Group leader at West Suffolk Council, said she had only been contacted by people who were opposed to the grotto plans.

"I think it would work great in Cambridge, a big city. It just seemed to me there might have been a better way of doing that if you are trying to increase footfall," she said.

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