COUNCIL chiefs are switching off a bid to reinstate Weymouth’s popular seafront fairy lights.
Campaigner Dave Burchill managed to get the issue back on the council agenda after collecting enough signatures to force a debate on the strings of lights he described as the ‘jewel in Weymouth’s crown’.
Ever since an overhaul of seafront lighting, which saw a laser show unveiled to mixed reactions, the promenade is now a ‘dark and unwelcoming place’, reckons Mr Burchill, a retired postmaster who lives in the Park District.
Almost 1,700 people agreed with him when they signed his paper and online petitions, and earlier in the summer councillors agreed to look again at the issue, saying the views of the public couldn’t be ignored.
But investigations by officers at Weymouth and Portland Borough Council have resulted in a resounding thumbs down for any move to bring the fairy, or catenary, lights back.
This is because the lights would conflict with what’s on the refurbished seafront and be ‘visually confusing’.
It would also be expensive – somewhere between £150,000 and £200,000 to start with, according to estimates – and the council hasn’t got the money.
Mr Burchill claims officers are putting ‘every obstacle in his path’ and suggests the only reason they don’t want the lights back is because they would ‘interfere with their seafront masterplan’. He reckons the lights can be installed for far cheaper than council estimates, and suggests they are put up as Queen’s Diamond Jubilee commemorative lights aided by public subscription.
Mr Burchill will have a final chance to present his case at a meeting of the management committee next Tuesday.
A report to the committee by property and facilities manager Rosie Darkin says the introduction of further and different lighting would be ‘visually confusing’ and lead to more posts being put up to the ‘detriment’ of seafront improvements.
A seafront regeneration programme to improve lighting, illuminate historical features and tidy up the area saw the removal of the 1950s fairy lights in place of modern alternatives.
Ms Darkin explains they were on for 18 weeks a year, had rising running costs, were in poor condition and were vandalised regularly. She said they were mainly attached to lamp columns which were removed for a PFI-funded lighting scheme and could not be carried on the replacement columns. She rules out new fairy lights as she claims they would need 50 new support columns along the beach edge of the promenade resulting in an ‘over cluttered seafront.’ The estimated cost of a basic scheme would be £156,500 plus £3,000 annual running costs. Schemes similar to those in Paignton or Torquay would cost more.
Ms Darkin points out the return of the fairy lights is not supported by all, citing the petition by Mark Probin who believes Weymouth should embrace change.
Mr Probin said: “The fairy lights were on a few weeks a year so why didn’t anyone complain when they were turned off?
“I think people need to accept the changes going We want the town to move forward. The Georgian heritage isn’t going anywhere and these new additions mix with that and complement the old buildings.”
Mr Burchill said: “All is not lost. I’ve had some positive feedback from some councillors and I will present my case at the management committee.”
How the esplange saga unfolded
- 2010: Public protest as plans to remove fairy lights and introduce a Veils of Light laser scheme to bring a ‘fresh identity’ to the Esplanade. The fairy lights are finally turned off in November
- January 2011: Fairy lights removed as part of seafront regeneration programme Autumn 2011: Veils of Light art installation approved by council
- April 2012: Dave Burchill launches his campaign to bring back fairy lights
- May 2012: Launch of Veils of Light lasers following long delays is met with a largely negative response
- June 2012:Dave Burchill prompts a council debate after collecting 1,700 names in a petition
- July 2012: Council agrees to investigate reinstating fairy lights following vote at full council
- October 2012: Report to Management Committee recommends lights are not reinstated