Chichester’s Christmas lights could be back this year

An answer could be on the horizon to Chichester’s Christmas lights shame.

The city has been in the national headlines for failing to provide festive lights, and Observer readers have criticised the decision.

But next year, they could be back – if traders back a move by city business leaders.

Andrew Finnamore, chairman of Chichester City Centre Partnership – a group comprising city traders – said: “Maybe it’s time we stopped beating ourselves up about our collective failure to arrange the Christmas lights this year, and recognise this event is symptomatic of a greater failure – which is to take our city for granted.  

“It’s equally important to recognise the city council, which is funded by the city’s residents, doesn’t have an obligation to provide the lights every year, without contribution. They too have a year of austerity ahead.

“We would also like to remind everyone there is a movement in the city, led by the private sector, which is planning to take a greater role in the way our city centre is managed. It’s called the City Centre Partnership.

“We are working to ensure Chichester is able to compete with the surrounding shopping areas shown in the Observer before Christmas. These included Worthing, Winchester and Portsmouth.  

“The main difference between these towns and Chichester is that they all have become business improvement districts.  

“There are more than 100 business improvement districts across the UK. They allow city centre partnerships to collect funding, which is then managed by the partnership and invested locally in projects to improve the city centre.

“Next year, we will be asking the city’s businesses to agree to pay a sum equal to one per cent of their annual business rates – that’s only one per cent to fund new projects for the benefit of businesses, services and the city.  

“Not only that, but as a business improvement district, we will be able to bid for additional finance from other sources, such as lottery funding.

“The current city centre partnership has been run as a pilot scheme, with no brief to deal with Christmas lights and with very limited resources.  

“We want to see Christmas lights in Chichester and a repeat of the wonderful switch-on events held during the previous five years. We believe business improvement districts are a fair and proven way of guaranteeing investment in the city centre.

“Other towns and cities have shown a city centre partnership, run by the private sector, is the best way of managing this investment that enables sustainable economic and commercial growth.

“During the next six months, we will be talking to businesses in the city centre to show them what could be achieved if the business community works together. Then businesses will get the chance to vote on this initiative in October.

“If you wish to see our city revitalised and the lights issue sorted once and for all, we hope everyone will support the business improvement district scheme.

“This could be our last chance to secure the future of Chichester city centre and retain its Christmas traditions.”