Councillors concerned about the damage caused by Brighton’s first Christmas market have been invited to a meeting with organisers.
Two councillors raised concerns, as did someone who lives and works near the site, at a Brighton and Hove City Council meeting yesterday (Thursday 13 January).
Conservative councillor Dee Simson, an experienced market trader, shared her concerns when councillors discussed giving landlord’s consent for events in council-owned open spaces in the coming 12 months.
She said that the event in Valley Gardens from late November to the end of last month did not reflect what had been agreed last March, prompting her to check the minutes.
What had taken place did not match her mental image of a Christmas market, she said, nor did it match the agreement.
Councillor Simson said: “This gave me the mental picture of something that you see in other cities and countries, with many retailers selling interesting gifts and Christmas items.
“But it didn’t seem to transpire, with many of the units selling just expensive refreshments.
“I know the organisers did try hard to get local, small creative businesses interested, but this appears not to have happened, which really is a shame.”
And the mud and visible damage to Old Steine and Victoria Gardens after the event packed up led Councillor Simson to ask whether it was in the right place.
She added that the area was better suited to summer events when the ground was more likely to be dry rather than too wet and soft, as in the winter.
The market and funfair should move to somewhere with hard surfaces, she said, such as Madeira Drive.
She also said that Steine Gardens was the wrong place to hold a funfair because it was too close to people’s homes.
But councillors were told that there were legal limitations restricting the number of days that Madeira Drive could be closed to traffic – and existing events used these.
Old Steine resident Gary Farmer asked why the council had put a funfair in a “densely populated residential/conservation area” in direct competition with the Palace Pier.
Green councillor Martin Osborne said that the council widely advertised the event as having funfair rides, entertainments, food and stalls.
Labour councillor Amanda Evans told councillors that she received several letters and calls over the Christmas period and read “hundreds” of comments on social media expressing disappointment in the Christmas market.
At a meeting at Hove Town Hall, Councillor Evans asked for assurances that councillors and officials could discuss ways to improve the event in future.
The council’s Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee was told that the same operator would be running the event this year and next.
She was concerned about the unwelcoming fencing and security and said that it was not an inviting experience, with entry limited to one corner of the site.
Councillor Evans said: “I really don’t understand why it was felt necessary when the paths were wide and doorways wide, to have a security presence at both ends telling people they couldn’t get in at one end when the stalls were right there.
“There’s disability issues with that – all kind of issues with that. It creates a bad impression from the start to have officious security people on the site telling people which entrance they have to come in at.”
Councillor Osborne, who co-chairs the committee, said that he believed that the security advice had come from the council’s Safety Advisory Group – which included emergency services representatives – but it was something to review.
He would join officials to discuss “lessons learned and points for improvement” for the event later this year to make it a more attractive opportunity.
Councillor Evans and Councillor Simson were invited to join the meeting about this year’s event as they speak for their parties on tourism, communities and culture.
Councillor Osborne said: “The Valley Gardens area has been a popular location for the city’s night-time economy for many years.
“More than 131,000 people visited the Christmas festival this year. After a challenging year for everyone, I was pleased to see a new winter event attract foot-fall and interest, generating social and economic benefits for the city by a locally based events management organisation.”
A senior council official, Nick Hibberd, the executive director for the economy, environment and culture, said that the event organisers were working with parks staff to repair damage to the area.
He said that when damage occurred during events, it could take longer to put right, but there had never been a situation where a site was damaged beyond repair.
The company behind the Brighton Christmas Festival said that there were many positives to take from the five-week event.
David Hill, chief executive of E3 Events, the Hove business that won a three-year contract from the council to run the festival, said that more than 130,000 people visited the main market.
Mr Hill said: “It is important that while we acknowledge the challenges we faced for the first year like covid, there were also massive positives.”
Numbers were high and many of the attractions had proved popular, he said, as
- 81 traders in total took part in the festival including 62 based in the city or the wider Sussex area
- 10,021 family visitors entered Santa’s Grotto with 3,307 tickets sold
- 58 local charities and community groups took space in the Community Celebration Square
- 15 sponsors supported the event including five who committed £10,000 or more
- 10,825 bookings were made for shows in the Apres Ski Zone equating to 14,341 tickets
- E3’s new production for families and children – The Elves Save Christmas – sold 10,123 tickets
Mr Hill said that the total number of visitors – 131,224 – did not include those going on the Big Wheel or visiting the fairground or Apres Ski Zone.
He said: “The company we used to run the grotto said they had never seen such strong advance ticket sales. We sold 2,214 tickets before the grotto even opened.
“All in all, we produced some cracking numbers, which only serve to highlight the massive potential this festival has going forward.”
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