Belfast Telegraph

Downpatrick splashes out £17,500 on Christmas tree

By Deborah McAleese

Last year it was labelled as having the worst Christmas tree in Northern Ireland with its sorry fir slumped dejectedly beside the public toilets.

This year, Downpatrick has pulled out all the stops to avoid a repeat of last year’s humiliation and splashed out £17,500 on a 35ft artificial tree and lights.

The tree, decorated with 5,000 lights, has taken pride of place in the newly-renovated town square outside the St Patrick Centre.

It is without doubt a greater festive treat than last year’s disaster, which outraged locals and — embarrassingly for Down District Council — became a figure of fun in the media and on websites around the world.

Located between the public toilets and a red letterbox, the limp fir was dubbed the ‘credit crunch tree’.

But while this year’s grand new tree — the biggest the town has ever seen — may appease local traders and members of the public, there are others who are slightly prickly about the expense.

Down District Council said that the £17,500 cost of the tree and its lights was funded by the Department of Social Development to help regenerate the town.

A spokeswoman said the council is “especially pleased” with the new artificial tree which, she said, “given its value for money and sustainable nature will become a regular feature in Downpatrick”.

But DUP councillor Billy Walker said he is not impressed by the cost and for that cash he would have expected Christmas trees in towns across the district.

“I think priorities are all wrong. We are being told we have to trim back on different departments, but it is OK to spend that amount of money on a tree,” he said.

“Recently the council withdrew Saturday morning refuge collection lorries from Killyleagh, Crossgar and Saintfield saying it was costing £34,000. That was a frontline service. They get rid of that but spend almost £20,000 on a tree. That makes me angry.”

Downpatrick recently underwent a £3.5m facelift to regenerate the town centre.

SDLP councillor Colin McGrath said it would have been “atrocious” to decorate the town centre with a “damp squib of a tree”.

“We want to attract people into the district which is why money has been invested. The Christmas tree looks really well and is perfect for the new square,” he said.

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