Christmas lights crush could spark a safety rethink

Chichester’s Christmas lights switch-on event proved too popular for its own good and could be changed in the future – or not happen at all, according to organisers.

Thousands of people packed into the city centre to watch the new lights being switched on actor Simon Callow at The Cross on Saturday.

But while many enjoyed it, some complaints have been made about the crowd control as there was simply no room to move for many minutes before and after the event.

Chichester City Council is responsible for the lights display, which famously didn’t happen last year because of funding problems.

Town clerk Rodney Duggua said there are a number of options he will be putting forward for next year, including that the switch-on event doesn’t happen at all.

“As the event concluded, it was obvious that although many people had exercised good-natured tolerance and enjoyed themselves, there were clearly some who had an opposite experience, being caught up the very large crowd which they found very frightening, particularly around The Cross,” he said.

“This is positively the last thing anyone would want with an event which had good news and happy themes uppermost.

“Those involved will be sitting down very soon to review future planning.

“I, for one, will not be backing any plan which continues to feature present routines. One option might be not to have a switch-on ceremony at all because of the immovable ‘pinch points’ around The Cross caused by the buildings and the effect that geography has upon crowd numbers.

“Several years ago, the city council were persuaded to focus the switch-on ceremony at The Cross rather than the former location outside the Council House in North Street, which likewise led to people complaining about not being able to get past on the west side of North Street.

“With any event in Chichester, there are people who do not want to have anything to do with it and simply want to go about their business unhindered.

“Those with local knowledge who did not want to buy into proceedings were able to use diversionary routes around side streets, as were those whose personal circumstances made them happier to avoid the event.

“Whilst a reasonable planning assumption was made that numbers attending the event would be up on previous years to see the new lighting display, I would say that having worked in Chichester 33 years, I have never seen so many people gathered together.”

He said other options could include having the switch-on later on a Saturday after shops have closed, or on a Thursday late-night shopping day.