Resort TV screens' future looks blank

STEPHEN PULLINGER They were once hailed as a colourful part of Yarmouth's new image for the 21st century - but the future of the town's controversial big screens looks decidedly black.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

They were once hailed as a colourful part of Yarmouth's new image for the 21st century - but the future of the town's controversial big screens looks decidedly black.

Nearly four years ago, borough council chiefs were happy to lavish £900,000 on the three screens, the first to be seen along the Norfolk coast, as a way of promoting events and attractions in the resort.

However, it emerged last night that the £200,000 screen in the Market Place, which has been out of action for eight months after a possible power surge, might prove too costly to repair - and council bosses are waiting to see if their insurers will even pay out.

A catalogue of faults affecting the two seafront screens, limiting their use last summer, has also been revealed - and despite a winter overhaul by supplier ADI one of them has still to be switched on this season because of problems.

Heaping even more pressure on the council, it has emerged that the unreliable screens account for an annual £110,000 running costs bill for council tax payers, covering such things as insurance, content material, cleaning and the services of a screen manager.

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Council opposition Labour leader Trevor Wainwright branded the screens saga as a “catalogue of errors from day one” and called for a detailed costs breakdown to be presented to next month's meeting of the council's scrutiny committee.

He also demanded that a representative from ADI should be called to the meeting to account for the poor reliability of Yarmouth's screens when they seemed to work perfectly well elsewhere in the country.

“People have been staring at a blank screen in the Market Place for months and if the screens on the seafront were operating on more than 10 days last summer I would be amazed,” he said.

Mr Wainwright questioned whether the Market Place screen could and should have been protected against a power surge if that was what caused the damage, and said that might place a question mark over any possible insurance payout.

He said: “No one seems able to get to grips with this despite the fact we are talking about a sizeable chunk of the town's £16m InteGreat regeneration budget.”

Town centre manager Jonathan Newman said: “We have missed months of valuable advertising and promotion from our Christmas fair onwards, but people have become so used to looking at a blank screen I am seldom even asked about it anymore.”

Tim Howard, the council's head of regeneration and environment, said it had still to be determined whether a power surge or something else had caused the damage.

“The insurers' loss adjusters are examining the claim and will take into account all the circumstances, including the fact that the screen is three years old,” he said.

Mr Howard said it had been hoped to offset the running costs to a greater extent through increased advertising revenue and greater rental from hiring out the screens during the winter.

Tory cabinet support member for tourism Bert Collins said: “We have got to get to the bottom of this and find out who is responsible for what. We want to make the screens perform as we had expected, not write them off as a dead duck.”

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