Red tape hits Harleston Christmas lights

Fresh fears have been raised that Christmas lights switch-on events will be scaled back after county council officials admitted that towns may still have to pay for road closures.

Towns and villages across Norfolk had been told that would have to pay an extra �450 fee to close roads for the annual Christmas illumination celebrations.

But after allaying the concerns of lights organisers, County Hall officials said that affected towns may still have to cough up, despite efforts to cut down the red tape.

The news prompted a south Norfolk town to stage an emergency meeting following concerns that an additional �450 fee would put their Christmas lights switch-on in jeopardy.

But instead of cancelling this year's Harleston lights, volunteers decided to scale back their event on December 3, which relies entirely on donations and fundraising.

News of the fee came after Norfolk Police, which had previously used their powers to close roads for the annual festivities, insisted that towns and villages go through the formal route of applying for an official order through Norfolk County Council.

Fiona Smith, chairman of the Harleston Christmas Lights Committee, said the extra red tape put a huge strain on the town's �5,000 budget.

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She said: 'We have to carry on because if we don't we will let so many people down. At the end of the day, some of the events we were going to have will be cancelled because we do not have the money. We will still make it as good an event as we possibly can. The old system was not broke, so why try and fix it?'

John Birchall, spokesman for the county council, said the authority was attempting to reduce the legal and advertising costs by processing up to 60 applications in one go.

'We have recognised it is a big issue and quite a lot of people can not afford it, which is not what we want. We are not sure how much we will cut off the original cost, but we are doing our best,' he said.

Christmas lights committees will be asked to email their road closure applications to streetworks@norfolk.gov.uk.

A Norfolk Police spokesman said traffic management and safety at Christmas lights events was the responsibility of organisers.