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Why more of our councils opt for fake Christmas trees at civic buildings

As the age-old debate over real versus artificial rages on, we reveal that genuine spruce is outnumbered by plastic

By Rebecca Black

Published 27/11/2015

A real Christmas tree outside Belfast City Hall
A real Christmas tree outside Belfast City Hall
An imitation tree inside City Hall

More councils are starting to "fake it" every festive season as plastic Christmas trees edge out the traditional spruce.

Only three of our 11 councils now use exclusively real trees, it can be revealed, while the remainder use both real and artificial evergreens.

A spokeswoman for Newry, Mourne and Down Council said the decision to go artificial was due to high winds in the city constantly damaging the real tree.

Belfast City Council has installed a traditional Norway spruce - sourced from Pubble Forest Park in Tempo, Co Fermanagh - outside City Hall, while an artificial tree takes pride of place in the foyer.

Derry and Strabane Council said it erects 29 Christmas trees across the district, six of which are artificial.

However Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon; Mid and East Antrim, and Fermanagh and Omagh councils stick to tradition and use only the genuine article.

Ards and North Down Council is the latest to trial an artificial tree.

While the council has erected real trees in Conway Square in Newtownards and on Bangor seafront, this weekend it will put its first plastic tree in place at Bangor Town Hall.

However, for some councillors, only a real tree will do.

At September's monthly meeting a report by council officials suggested using an artificial civic tree, but independent councillor Jimmy Menagh objected.

"I just think its traditional to have the real thing," he said.

"I'm glad we got a real tree in Newtownards and when we are switching the lights on (last night) in front of thousands of people. I think most of them would agree too.

"I have no doubt it'll come up before council again next year, but I'll fight it again and we'll keep getting our real tree."

Ards and North Down mayor Alan Graham (DUP) said he did not have strong views either way and was interested to see what residents of the borough thought of the two trees in Bangor.

"I have had both real and artificial trees in a personal capacity. I have a slight preference for the real thing - you can't beat the smell of a real tree," he said.

"In terms of the civic tree, I have not studied the economics of it but I would think if you get an artificial one you save on transport costs and the like.

"We have artificial trees in the mayors' parlours in Newtownards and Bangor.

"I think it will be interesting to listen to what the people have to say about it. But as long as they have a happy Christmas and also remember the true message of Christmas, about remembering it marks the day we were sent a saviour."

Mr Graham, a farmer, said he could see a business opportunity for a local farmer with a bit of land to spare if they tried to grow a Christmas tree for the council.

"I have considered myself trying to grow a civic tree," he explained.

"There is a definitely an opportunity there for a farmer - even though it would take a few years to grow to full height - to have a go at growing one for the borough."

Meanwhile, environmentalists say there is no such thing as a "truly green Christmas tree".

A Climate Northern Ireland spokesman said: "Despite artificial trees not being biodegradable and needing enormous amounts of energy to manufacture, it may come as a surprise that buying a real tree is not necessarily a greener option.

"What makes the most sustainable tree depends on many factors.

"These will include how many years you use an artificial tree, whether a real tree is composted or continues to grow, and how and where it's grown.

"The best option is to use whatever you've already got - or decorate large house plants to make stunning tree substitutes."

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