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Newry Council’s £240,000 Christmas lights budget concerns

Concerns have been raised over a Northern Ireland council’s £240,000 Christmas lighting budget.

Plans remain in place to turn festive lights on in the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council area from “dusk until dawn”.

However a local councillor says he is concerned the eventual bill for running the lights could run to “tens of thousands more” due to continually rising energy bills.

The Council’s electricity provider, Electric Ireland, hiked its residential bills by 29% at the start of this month.

The Council says “most of its street lights attached to Department for Infrastructure (DfI) lamp-posts”, will not be subject to any restricted time schedule changes to save money. Any rise in the seasonal spend, if over the budget, will need to be factored in to any decision making ahead of striking the rates for residents early next year. The local democracy service asked NMDDC for last year’s budget figures, but none were given.

Newry councillor, Charlie Casey (SF) has pledged to highlight the energy concerns.

He said: “We are living through some horrible economic times that effects every household in the community and £240,000 is a hell of a lot of money to be spending on Christmas lighting.

“I can only hope that once the bill comes in from the Christmas period, that we are not looking for tens of thousands more as we are in uncertain times.

“I will be raising this matter to the next District Electoral Area forum meeting to ask if there should be a strategy put in place to perhaps look at dimming down lights or having a better schedule of when the lights should be on and off.

“In the current climate a lot of people are not happy about the cost of electricity and they may think that the council should also reflect this as it is the residents who will be paying in the end.

“What I would say though, is that despite the high costs coming in for energy, that people still like to see the lights coming on for Christmas. So, hopefully we can save ratepayers some money and still put on a show.”

In May a NMDDC officer revealed that it expected its electricity to increase up to 200% as 10 out of 11 councils came out of contract with their suppliers.

The officer further stated: “The large increases have not been factored into the 2022/23 budgets.”

The council also confirmed (on Sept 29): “The budget for Christmas illuminations is £237,570. There is no expected change to the operation of lights this year.”

The DfI has stated that any Christmas billing for councils across Northern Ireland would have to be agreed in advance.

A spokesperson said: “When requested by councils, the department may provide electricity supplies to festive lighting attached to its street lighting columns. Councils must agree to take responsibility for paying associated energy costs before any connections are made. The department’s street lights currently operate from dusk until dawn and there are no plans to change this.”

The local democracy service had asked Electric Ireland to comment on its billing of local councils, however at the time of going to print it had not responded. Electric Ireland is the electricity provider for Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.

Electric Ireland’s website states: “International energy crisis continues to impact energy prices with unprecedented increases in wholesale gas in excess of 700% in the last 12 months and over 200% since June 2022 alone.

“Electric Ireland will increase residential electricity bills by 26.7 per cent and residential gas bills by 37.5 per cent with effect from 1st October 2022

“This continues to be a very challenging time for all energy consumers, and an unprecedented time in the energy industry.

“It is with considerable reluctance that we are increasing electricity prices for our customers, which is necessary given the continuing increase in wholesale energy.”

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