Belfast Telegraph

Bah humbug! Scrooge claim as new council cuts Christmas budget for villages to £15,000

By Donna Deeney

Councillors representing rural areas of Strabane district are furious that a meagre £15,000 has been set aside for Christmas festivities - while seven times that amount will be spent in the Derry area.

Residents in the Co Tyrone villages of Plumbridge, Ballymagorry, Castlederg and Newtownstewart could be left in the dark this Yuletide because the entire amount set aside is what the former Strabane District Council spent in just the town of Strabane last year.

Councillor Derek Hussey said the rural ratepayers deserved their Christmas cheer as much as their urban neighbours. He said: "There is a real imbalance between the amount allocated for the area covered by the old Strabane District Council, which is £15,000, while the area covered by the old Derry City Council will get £105,000.

"Even if you go on a per head of population basis it doesn't add up and it looks like it will be the rural communities that will suffer - but they pay their rates too.

"Last year, before the amalgamated council came into effect, £15,000 was spent in Strabane for the Christmas celebrations but the outlying villages were able to have their Christmas trees and festivities too.

"I don't think it is fair if they have to do without this year."

SDLP councillor Patsy Kelly was equally incensed at the idea that some ratepayers would have a brighter Christmas than others.

He said: "One of the concerns raised at the time the two councils merged was that rural communities would be forgotten about in such a big council and here we are less than a year in and that is exactly what is happening.

"All of our citizens like a bit of Christmas cheer, but £15,000 to cover the entire area that was the former Strabane District Council isn't enough, that is what was spent in Strabane last year."

No one from Derry City and Strabane District Council was available to be contacted.

The news comes after it was revealed that there will be no Christmas market in Derry this year because of a lack of council funding and a lack of interest from the public.

The international Christmas market first came to the city two years ago and was based at the Guildhall. Last year it was moved to Ebrington Square, which proved disastrous for traders because of a lack of footfall.

Derry City and Strabane councillors were told this week that there was no funding available to bring the market back this year, and instead £120,000 would be invested in alternative ways to attract shoppers.

One of the proposals was to replace the market with a Christmas lights carnival and a series of Christmas weekend events to showcase the city.

Belfast Telegraph


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