Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council looks set to spend an extra £155,000 on its Christmas events this year.
Although the decision will require ratification at its monthly meeting on June 27, a recommendation to spend the additional money from the council’s Covid recovery funds gained the support of its economic development and regeneration committee this week.
Members of the committee were told “Christmas is a key component of the borough’s growth and recovery” and it was explained that various business associations and chambers have requested the return of council-hosted twilight markets.
At present, plans are in place for Portadown to host its twilight market on Friday, November 18; Lurgan on Saturday, November 19 or Friday, November 25; Banbridge on Friday, November 25 and Dromore on Saturday, December 3.
Other festivities planned include the Brownlow lights switch-on, the Georgian Festival and a Silent Christmas event
For smaller settlements across the borough there are plans for events in Richhill, Tandragee, Keady, Waringstown and Donaghcloney. However, members were advised further investigation will be required into any event to be held in Rathfriland.
Officers will continue to meet with representatives from these rural towns to agree the preferred activity with the options, at present, likely to be either a twilight market or a movie.
Plans are also in place to offer free off-street car parking in each town, in line with Christmas light switch-ons and Georgian Day in Armagh.
In addition to this, the council’s free off-street parking programme during key festive Saturday shopping days (December 3, 10 and 17) and Christmas Eve looks set to be offered again.
The cost of delivering up to six council rural events such as mini markets, replacement and enhancement of festive lighting features, maximising marketing opportunities to residents outside the borough and meeting the growing demand for the Silent Christmas event is where officers estimate the additional £155,000 will be spent.
Members were told other important events and activities planned for the Christmas period will be covered within current departmental budgets and a Christmas Steering Group will monitor, review and report on progress.
UUP Councillor Kyle Savage said he was happy to propose the recommendation to approve the programme of activities and agree to contribute an additional investment of £155,000 from the council’s Covid-19 recovery funds.
However, the Lagan River representative stressed the need for marketing to ensure the entire borough is recognised in the council’s branding efforts this year.
His party colleague, Councillor Jill Macauley seconded the proposal and said she welcomed the “further investigation” of an event in Rathfriland noting the “drive-in cinema was a great success last year”.
SDLP group leader, Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon welcomed the return of the mini-twilight markets and said he was keen to see a strap line for the campaign that is better than “light up the borough”.
“My rationale for that is ‘light up the borough’ could be any borough. We need something that is more focused on Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon and the wider council area as well,” he said.
“In relation to the Georgian Day event, I would also be keen that as many of these events as possible are back in the city centre. It is an important day for traders and those in the town centre and I would fear that stretching it out too much would lessen its impact in the city centre.”
Councillor Paul Berry said it was a “very encouraging report” for rural councillors and welcomed confirmation of the return of twilight markets though noticed Markethill’s absence from the report.
“It is probably just a typing error that Markethill is not mentioned,” he said.
“I know they had a drive-in movie last year which was very successful and it is a thriving town and none of us could leave here tonight unless we got that mentioned.
“It is vitally important one of our most successful rural towns is included.”
Councillor Sam Nicholson said he too noticed Markethill was left off the list but welcomed the paper and said he was in agreement with his colleagues previous comments.
UUP group leader Alderman Jim Speers said the council must think about where the best place to hold the twilight markets are in each area to ensure they work well for businesses already in the rural areas.
“If our focus is the market that brings a lot of people to the village that is good but the benefit of it should be realised by the community it is in,” he said.
“While there should be a focus on a family evening it is important to also consider the economic return for the area in question. In the case of Richhill, for example, last year it was very well attended but it was divorced from the centre of the village and I would like to see that change.”
DUP group leader Alderman Mark Baxter asked officers to start making plans with rural community groups as soon as these proposals are ratified and said he was “fairly supportive” of the proposed programme before the committee voiced its approval to accept Councillor Savage’s proposal to approve the plans.