Cut price deal aims to help Santa

Organisers of 17 Christmas lights switch-on events across Norfolk look set to have saved hundreds of pounds in unexpected extra costs for road closures.

Town and parish councils were up in arms earlier this month when they were told by Norfolk County Council that in future it would cost them �450 each to apply for closures.

Following the outcry the county says it has acted swiftly to rescue events due to take place this month which could have faced cancellation because of the fee.

It came up with a cash-saving alternative, inviting communities to put in one shared road-closure application.

Council spokesman John Birchall said they had sent letters to 400 different organisations around Norfolk explaining the situation and asking them to get in touch if they wanted to be part of the single application.

There had been 17 positive replies by the deadline and an officer had rung each on Friday to check that they were prepared to pay the cost, expected to be between �40 and �65.

'We haven't heard back from a lot of people but we have to draw up a final list because some of these events happen in November and we could otherwise run out of time,' said Mr Birchall.

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The change followed a decision by the police that it was no longer appropriate to use their emergency powers for road closures, according to Mr Birchall.

As a result the council now had to process applications, with legal and advertising costs resulting in a �450 bill.

'We weren't responsible for the police decision. We respect it, but it's left us as piggy-in-the-middle - 'either pay �450 or scupper your event,'' he added.

'We're not the bad guys demanding money with menaces. We've spent a lot of time working on a quick solution to save the situation this year and we'll have to give it more thought next year.'

Mr Birchall said it was ironic that the added red tape had followed a pledge by MP Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to cut the form-filling strangling community events.

And it was frustrating that, because this year's arrangement had resulted in a multi-application, it would have to be approved by a government department, adding to delays.

Vera Woodcock, seretary of Cromer's Christmas lights committee said she was angry at the short notice given to organisers which meant she had to make a decision without consulting fellow members, and they resented having to pay any charge after 33 years of the volunteer-run event.

She said: 'We can't afford any unnecessary drain on our balances. We will have to pay and hope the money comes in from elsewhere but next year there may not be any lights.'