Open-air winter event under threat

A POPULAR open-air winter event in Colchester is under threat because of “impenetrable bureaucracy” at the town hall, its organiser has claimed.

Roddy Ashworth

A POPULAR open-air winter event in Colchester is under threat because of “impenetrable bureaucracy” at the town hall, its organiser has claimed.

The fourth annual Christmas Fair and Market was scheduled to be held on November 30 in Colchester High Street on the same day as the town's festive lights are due to be switched on.

Last year the fair pulled in around 15,000 visitors to the town and there were around 30 stalls in the High Street - which was closed especially for the event - as well as music, street theatre and other attractions.

But organiser Don Quinn, of promotions and events company Snake in The Grass, said yesterday that because he had been unable to confirm funding arrangements it was now looking as if this year's fair would have to be scrapped.

Mr Quinn, himself a former Colchester Borough councillor, said that previously his firm had dealt with Colchester Town Partnership (CTP), a management company part-funded by the council.

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The CTP arranged and hired the Christmas lights as well as other attractions throughout the year to promote the town centre and draw visitors in.

However, in January the partnership was dissolved, leaving the borough council to take over many of its responsibilities.

Mr Quinn said that he had contacted the council about this year's fair as soon as the CTP was abolished, but apart from a meeting in August he had had no firm discussions about how it would be financed.

“Last year we had about £2,000 from the CTP and with that we were able to generate a further £10,000 through sponsorship and other activities.

“This year, because we haven't had any guarantee of funding, we have been unable to confirm the date to anyone so we haven't been able to get any sponsors. And, of course, we have the credit crunch to contend with.

“They don't answer my emails or return my calls. It's not the elected politicians I have a problem with, it is the impenetrable bureaucracy of the town hall.

“All we want to do is get some street entertainers, a brass band, hurdy-gurdies, that sort of thing. We would like a bit of razzamatazz and lots of fun, which the town deserves to cheer itself up.

“If you see what is happening in Ipswich and Chelmsford, where the borough councils are proactive in this sort of thing, it looks like Colchester is slipping back in time. Those towns are streets ahead of us.”

Theresa Higgins, the borough council's head of culture, tourism and diversity, said she had met Mr Quinn shortly after the change in administration when they agreed upon a date.

She said: “We promised him some money to help pay for the barriers but we haven't promised him any more, and we set the date for November 30.

“What we're doing separately is we're getting the lights for the High Street. We have picked up the contract from the town partnership - that's the contribution from the council. What Don wants to do with how he gets stallholders, we've left to him - he said he could do it.”

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