February 21, 2023 2.30 pm This story is over 14 months old

Why the Lincoln Christmas Market was axed

The reasons behind the decision

City of Lincoln Council leaders have voted to end the Christmas Market in its current form and move forward with plans to use the budget for smaller events, but why?

The move, like the market itself, has divided opinion with many deriding the decision, while others have launched campaigns to save and instead evolve the market to cope with its issues.

However, the council fears the event could become unsafe if it continues growing and said there were rising costs to tackling the issue.

Here we look at some of the key issues:

Overcrowding

There were concerns about overcrowding at the 2022 Christmas Market and councillors said that if numbers continued to rise it risked “becoming unsafe”.

The market is held in a relatively small area of the city, which leaders said could not accommodate the large number of visitors that were attracted to the event.

More than 320,000 people attended the Christmas market in 2022, 70,000 more visitors than its ideal 250,000 limit. Between 2019 and 2022, visitor numbers increased by 40%.

There were 577,000 ‘people movements’ through Castle Square, visiting more than 200 stalls, with more than 11,700 cars at the Park and Ride.

CCTV images presented to the meeting showed the busy crowds during the Saturday (third) peak day of the market, which visitors experienced for several hours.

During that time, there were 88 medical incidents of which 50 were dealt with by St John’s Ambulance Service – however, council officers said that was a typical number for an event of that sze.

Simon Walters told the council: “We’ve seen overcrowding in some areas, which has led to bottlenecks and pinch points, which present a safety risk for visitors. It’s not just about the risk of accidents, it’s also about the potential for a terrorist attack in such crowded spaces.”

A Safety Advisory Group of fire, ambulance, police and emergency planning staff also told the council “there was no event plan that we could have produced or can produce that will safely deal with any increase in visitor numbers.”

The situation became even worse on Saturday after sections of the market were closed off with councillors shown CCTV of crowds which pulled people along for an “extended period of time”.

High cost to the council

The council is estimated to take a near £80,000 hit to its budget for 2022 when all is said and done, due to a number of reasons. There were fewer stalls, higher contract costs, increased work to the park and ride site and general enhancements, as well as business rate liability.

Overall, the council currently forecasts that it spent around £741,240 on infrastructure and had an income of around £663,0770 from contributions, event income and fees and charges, leaving a £77,471 deficit so far. Final numbers are, however, still set to be confirmed.

The City of Lincoln Council’s executive made the decision on Monday night. | Image: Daniel Jaines

The authority had originally expected to lose about £43,370.

According to documents before the executive last night. Over the next few years, the council expects infrastructure costs to rise to £983,400 by 2027/28 but income will only increase to £699,140.

A £260,000 budget deficit is built into the council’s finances for the event, but is expected to rise to £294,000 by 2077, and councillors feel that it could be better spent elsewhere.

Public image

The combination of high numbers, closed sections and overcrowding also led to negative feedback and reputational damage to the Christmas market last year, said council officers.

Simon told councillors: “Rather than get any respite from the market on that Saturday, people were in those crowds for their whole experience so by the time they got to the end of the market, they’d experienced those crowds for so many hours. That reflected in the visitor reactions.”

He sid some visitors also made 999 calls reporting concerns around potential crushing, though organisers said that “at no time were people unsafe”.

The negative feedback and reputational damage caused by the market included criticism of overcrowding, traffic congestion, and anti-social behaviour, as well as concerns about the high cost to the council and the poor return on investment.

Members of the public listening during the executive meeting on Monday. | Image: Daniel Jaines

In addition, some local businesses had complained about reduced footfall during the market and the impact of the event on their business operations.

“The 2022 Christmas market was exceptionally well-planned and executed… but we had a significant uplift in visitor numbers last year. The plans coped with that increase but we were at capacity,” said Simon.

“The visitor experience did suffer and the Christmas market took a hit in terms of reputation,” he added.

Why would some solutions not work?

During the meeting, several solutions were put forward to address the issues with the Christmas Market, but they were ultimately rejected. They included:

  • Increasing the size of the market: This was rejected because it could exacerbate the overcrowding and safety concerns and also increase the cost to the council.
  • Limiting the number of visitors: This was seen as impractical and unenforceable, as there were no feasible methods to accurately control the number of visitors to the market.
  • Moving the market to a different location: This was deemed unfeasible, as Castle Square and the surrounding areas were considered the most suitable location for the market due to their infrastructure and facilities
  • Extending the duration of the market: The council ultimately decided against this due to the potential for increased costs, logistical challenges, and concerns over the impact on the city center’s other businesses. It would require the closure of the city center’s streets for a more extended period, which would mean additional costs for traffic management and security. Additionally, some local businesses expressed concern that a more extended market would further impact their ability to operate.
  • Reducing the length of the market: This was also rejected because it could result in reduced revenue for the council, and it was thought that visitors would still try to cram their visits into a shorter period, leading to further overcrowding and safety concerns.

Ultimately, the council decided that scrapping the traditional Christmas Market and focusing on a wider range of events throughout the year was the best solution.

So what have opponents to the plans said to the decision?

Opponents to the decision to cancel the popular Lincoln Christmas Market expressed disappointment and concern about the impact on local businesses.

Some called for an urgent review of the decision and suggested alternative solutions to address the safety concerns, such as reducing the size of the market, extending the event duration, or introducing a ticketing system.

They argue that cancelling the event will have a significant economic impact on the city, which relies heavily on the tourism and hospitality sector.

Some have also criticized the council for not consulting with local residents and businesses before making the decision.


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