'Complete waste of our money' - uproar over Santa's grotto

The Arc shopping centre in Bury St Edmunds full of festive sparkle for Christmas 2020.

The Arc shopping centre in Bury St Edmunds full of festive sparkle for Christmas 2020. - Credit: Archant

Plans for an £83,000 Santa's grotto that would be partially funded by taxpayers' money is causing outrage in a market town.

Bury St Edmunds Town Council agreed to contribute £25,000 towards the festive event, which would be held in the former Topshop unit in the Arc shopping centre in the town.

But this use of taxpayers' money has been described as "absurd" and "absolutely ridiculous" by Labour town councillor Katie Parker - and she isn't alone in holding these views.

The Arc shopping centre in Bury St Edmunds is full of festive sparkle with the Christmas lights now

The Arc shopping centre in Bury St Edmunds last Christmas when the lights were turned on. - Credit: Archant

The award-winning Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre run by West Suffolk Council was cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic and will not be taking place this year either. In its place, local organisations are bringing forward events and activities in the run-up to Christmas.

Greg Luton, town clerk for Bury St Edmunds Town Council, said funding festive events in Bury St Edmunds "has had general support from the council over many months" and "are important to the local economy and the well-being of our residents". 

A spokesperson for the Arc shopping centre said they were committed to investing in the town and were grateful for partnerships, including with the town council and West Suffolk Council, "that allow us to work together to ensure that we make our town a great success especially this Christmas".

Katie Parker, a town councillor for St Olaves in Bury St Edmunds

Katie Parker, a town councillor for St Olaves in Bury St Edmunds, wants the public to know that she does not agree in spending £25,000 of taxpayers' money on the Christmas grotto. - Credit: Katie Parker


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Mrs Parker said on social media: "I was unable to attend [the town council meeting], but felt extremely strongly that this is a great misuse of your hard-earned money.

"I do not believe that this is a good use of council tax and want it publicly known that I, and some others did NOT [sic] support this.  However it was voted through."

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She said in the current climate of increased National Insurance, fuel cost rises and the cut to Universal Credit it felt "morally wrong" to spend £83,000 on a Santa's Grotto.

The start of Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre.

The award-winning Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre has not run since 2019, before the pandemic. - Credit: Gregg Brown

People have expressed their anger on social media, with comments including that the £25,000 contribution would be a "disgraceful and complete waste of our hard-earned money".

Diane Hind, a town councillor who voted against the funding, said while the event would "probably work in the West End of London or Cambridge" it "doesn't represent value for money when the grotto will only be open for around 15 days in total".

She added that a charge of £10 a ticket was "too expensive", especially when residents were facing rising costs.

"It would probably be magnificent, but it's too much money at this time of year, and especially with the Arc being a commercial venture," she said.

Santa's little helpers outside his grotto on day three of the Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre 2019.

Santa's little helpers outside his grotto on day three of the Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre 2019. - Credit: Archant

A paper that went to the full town council meeting on September 22 said the total cost of the Santa's grotto would be £82,869. This includes staff costs, supplier's fee and overall marketing costs.

There would be three main rooms designed and decorated to "a very high standard" following three main themes.

Children would have the opportunity to walk through the wonderland before meeting Father Christmas in his living room and receiving a high-quality gift.

The start of Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre.

The start of Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre in 2016. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Arc management suggests that either 50% or 25% of the money made from ticket sales could be donated to charity. Arc itself would contribute at least £30,000 towards the event.

The paper, produced by West Suffolk Council, said the Christmas period was a key trading time for the town centre businesses and, following Covid restrictions, "everyone needs something to look forward to".

Mr Luton added: "The town council hopes that its contribution to Christmas events this year, in partnership with others, will be a welcome and successful activity after so many months of difficult times for everyone.’’

A spokesperson for West Suffolk Council, a partner in 'Christmas in Bury St Edmunds,' said: “There will be a series of activities and events open for everyone in the local community to come along and enjoy, and to help support the town centre shops, cafes, restaurants and other businesses in the run up to Christmas. We look forward to announcing more details shortly.”

Councillor Diane Hind at an election in 2019.

Councillor Diane Hind at an election in 2019. - Credit: Mariam Ghaemi

But Mrs Hind, Labour Group leader at West Suffolk Council, questioned whether the Santa's grotto would really generate a financial boost for local businesses.

It is proposed that the grotto would be in place from November 27 until December 24. During term time the grotto would only open Friday until Sunday. 

To find out more about where you can see Santa in and around Suffolk read our article.



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