Opinion split as 'hideous' metal Christmas tree takes pride of place as Northern Ireland town breaks with festive tradition
It may still be early November, but a row has already broken out over a "hideous" new Christmas tree in Ballymena.
The metallic tree has been erected in the town's 'Harmony Hub', the structure which replaced a bandstand in the town centre earlier this year.
With the official Christmas lights switch-on due on Thursday, residents were quick to voice their views.
Ulster Unionist councillor Stephen Nicholl said he was less than impressed.
"I have to say we were promised something impressive and spectacular," he said.
"From the pictures I've seen so far it's certainly neither of those things.
"Next week I'll be having a chat with council officials about what their interpretation of those terms are."
One Ballymena woman told the Belfast Telegraph: "I don't think there's anything outstanding about it.
"They couldn't put the normal Christmas tree in because of this thing (the Harmony Hub)."
Also unimpressed was Willis Patterson, who said: "I don't like it at all, I think it's terrible. If you can't be bothered to put up a proper tree forget about it."
Taking a practical view, David Guthrie commented: "There won't be any debris and it won't blow over. I probably would have something like that at home - a lot easier to manage."
Matthew McPeake agreed, adding: "It'll get the job done."
Sharon Bell, however, wasn't as impressed and said the tree looked like "four tins turned upside down".
Dorothy Barkley added: "It's different but it's nice, it'll be lovely when it's lit up."
Another bystander who preferred not to be named said: "I don't even recognise it. It just doesn't look like a tree, it looks like a lampshade. Doesn't really do anything for me."
Graham Neil, originally from Glasgow but who now lives in Ballymena with his wife, added: "I think I count as a local but I'm not sure (about the tree). It's hideous, it looks like one of those arty things someone stuck up and probably cost a fortune. I'm surprised it hasn't been stolen."
He called for a traditional green tree instead. "That shouldn't be hard to source in Northern Ireland," he added.
Local newsagent Eugene Diamond was quick to share contrasting photos on social media comparing last year's considerably larger traditional festive fir alongside the new offering.
"I know the one I prefer but then I'm old and not with it," he said.
A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council defended the new installation.
"The Christmas tree that has been located at the Harmony Hub is one part of a brand new lighting scheme currently being installed across Mid and East Antrim in time for the switch-on events in the three town centres," they said.
"The main Christmas tree for Ballymena is still located outside The Braid, as it has been since it opened in 2008.
"On Thursday November 15, Ballymena's brand new festive lights will glitter through the high streets right up to the Harmony Hub, with a spectacular lantern parade with local schools, live music and Santa on his reindeer train."
They added: "Businesses are staying open late to cater to the crowds expected to come to Ballymena on that night and the new lights and entertainment at the Harmony Hub is to get that footfall right across the town centre.
"There will be lots of family fun taking place from 4-7pm, so come along to enjoy what will be the perfect start to your festive season."