Town with the Christmas lights jinx

IT’S the town with the Christmas lights jinx.

For years Diss has been the butt of jokes in Norfolk and even the national media as the town where the spirit of Scrooge is still alive and well.

This year a group of residents started planning in January to make certain the town finally got it right.

But this week they admitted it was not to be – and said they were considering legal action against the Kent-based contractors they blame for the latest “fiasco”.

Only three strings of lights had been put up in time for rock star Rick Wakeman to flick the switch earlier this month – and they fused straight away plunging the town back into darkness. Even the Christmas tree had to be removed because of health and safety fears.

Town officials said they had heard enough excuses from Cascade Illuminations – but once again promised that things would be different in 12 months’ time.

Town clerk Deborah Sarson said: “It’s such a blow for Diss. The town has been so let down by its lights and this is another year of it. It’s not just about what the company promised and didn’t deliver, it’s about a lack of credibility for the town.”

Problems first started three years ago when members of the chamber of trade were only able to raise £5 from the town’s businesses. It was a claim later denied but that time the damage had been done and Diss had become a national joke.

The next year the town raised £13,000 but organisers decided to start from scratch, bringing in a professional company and buying new lights – which meant only the Market Place and Mere Street could be covered.

Last year there were again murmurs of disapproval as organisers decided to “keep things simple” – which meant that the new display, again costing £13,000, consisted mostly of 50 small illuminated trees fixed on stores in the main shopping centre.

So this year planning started in January, with a new committee agreeing a three-year contract with Cascade Illuminations which would see £38,000-worth of lights put up in town this Christmas and the money repaid over three years.

At least that was the idea – the reality has been three strings of lights put up haphazardly in the market place for the December 2 switch-on, and empty promises to get more up by the week after.

Sub-contractors were in town this week to repair lights in the market place already damaged, and vowed to return on Monday to put more garlands up – but no one was holding their breath and the display looks just the same.

Cascade Illuminations sales director Kerry Whitaker has said the company will now give the lights already up in Diss this year to the town for free – but has not yet put these promises on paper and has become uncontactable.

Committee chairman Jackie Talbot said: “I am very disappointed and still hot under the collar as I do not like being let down, as I have worked so hard.

“The money I have collected is in the bank for next year, and the committee will be having a meeting at the end of January to decide the way forward.”

Diss is not the only town discussing legal action against Cascade Illuminations. Colchester is considering its options after parts of its display fell down on to crowded streets and officials in nearby Maldon have also been left disappointed with the quality of their display.

As for the Christmas tree – it was replaced with a larger one funded by the town council and erected by kind-hearted local charities. The lights were bought separately and Cascade Illuminations were not asked to put them up.

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