Cllr Emily Price, Mayor of Totnes said: “We’re very disappointed and surprised to read the statement from the Secretary of the Totnes Chamber of Commerce regarding the festive lights in Totnes, published in the Totnes Times on 2 November 2023.
“The Totnes Chamber of Commerce has been responsible for the Totnes cross-street festive lighting until the start of 2023. At this point, the Chamber contacted the Town Council to explain they could no longer afford to organise the festive cross-street lighting in the town. This was down to lack of funds and capacity to manage the road closures, electrical testing, replacement of the old festoon light strings (which were found to be unsafe) and to repair and upgrade many of the 90+ fixing points, some of which are currently also set too low to meet essential health and safety requirements. The lights have been increasingly problematic year on year, being unreliable and getting caught and pulled down by vehicles.”
“In collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce, the Town Council tried to find a solution. The Council called in local experts to identify the scale of the issue, who confirmed that a large and expensive upgrade was required to ensure cross-street lighting in the town was safe. Due to the fact many of the buildings would also require listed building consent in addition to owner consent for work to take place, it was agreed that this undertaking would not only be prohibitively expensive but also would not happen by Christmas 2023, leaving the town with no festive lights.
” At the request of the Chamber of Commerce, Totnes Town Councillors agreed to take over the festive lighting of the town for 2023. The Town Council has liaised with the Chamber of Commerce throughout to agree the new plans to ensure there would be festive lights in the town this year, also understanding that they would have to be different for that to happen, with no concerns raised.
“Contrary to the statement made by the Chamber of Commerce, there will be Christmas lights in Fore Street to indicate that the town is open. Essential repair works to enable the large ‘Welcome to Totnes’ illuminated sign to be hung at the entrance to the street were agreed with the Chamber of Commerce and prioritised. Authorities who have historically hung signage at that location had stated that the previous points were unsafe for any banners to be hung from them. As part of the wider Christmas lighting contract, these points have been professionally stress tested and the wires replaced. Fixing these points will also mean that in future community groups and events, such as the Totnes Show or TAODS, will now once again be able to hang a banner across the street at this point. We thank the building owners for their support and collaboration.
“As a Town Council we must rely on expert opinion to ensure we comply with essential health and safety and insurance requirements, and to make sure we keep residents and their homes and businesses safe. We cannot just rely on the fact there has been no serious accidents over the last 20-years and we cannot ignore issues surrounding minimum height requirements or if agencies tell us fixing points are unsafe. Of course, the more safe, festive lighting, in Totnes the better. While we really hope that the Chamber are able to erect additional lighting, we also hope that the relevant authorities such as Devon County Council, building owners and their insurance company are content with the safety of the lights and locations before they do so.
“Finally, as Christmas lights scored lowly as a stand-alone project on our recent Community Conversation survey for residents, and as the Chamber of Commerce have now stated they intend to add to the festive lighting in Totnes, the Council will now be discussing whether public money should be allocated for this from 2024 onwards.”
Photo: Part of the ‘Welcome To Totnes’ sign, which is strung across the road at the bottom of Fore Street currently undergoing repairs