THE future of Ledbury's Christmas lights switch-on is under serious threat, because of damaging council resignations and a forthcoming review of council practice.

This is according to the chairman of the Christmas Lights committee, Cllr Martin Eager.

This Saturday (November 26), the lights will be switched on, as usual, to cheers from hundreds of people by the Market House.

But Cllr Eager said the future of the lights, and his position as a councillor and the Christmas Lights committee chairman, depended on the operational review the council is undertaking, - to decide the best way forward generally for the troubled council.

He said he had no intention of standing down, but added: "That depends on the operational review and what happens as a consequence."

Cllr Eager said: "We have problems; we have lost our deputy clerk who was a huge asset not just for the lights but in every way the council operates. Her departure and that of several councillors make the ongoing commitment by staff and councillors precarious.

"This council will be undertaking an operational review; every aspect of how this council runs will be scrutinised and recommendations will follow."

But the review is not the only threat to the future of the switch-on.

Cllr Eager added: "After the next council elections in 2018 it is quite possible that the team that has for over twenty years been responsible for the Christmas lights will no longer be around, or maybe unable to fulfill the commitment required to put on the switch-on event; and so we may well go back to having the lights erected and then just turned on."

Cllr Eager said: "We could be running into the last two years for the Christmas Lights switch-on."

Meanwhile, another town councillor, Cllr Tony Bradford, has repeated calls for traders, and not the town council, to shoulder the financial burden for the Christmas lights.

Cllr Bradford said: "There is no mandatory remit for us, as a town council, to do the Christmas lights. It needs to be looked into. We should hand the Christmas lights back to the traders; it could be done as a way of keeping the precept down."

But Cllr Eager, the owner of the Homend Shopping Mall said: "With the best will in the world Ledbury traders come and go; various traders organisations start up, flourish for a time, but have always been unable to get any traders to commit to organising and funding the Christmas lights, this being a huge commitment both financially but also many hours of time and hard work by at least a small dedicated working group."

Concerning the cost of the lights, Cllr Eager said: "The current lights are on a three year lease - around £2.3k per year; we also have to pay for installation and stress testing and other incidentals taking the costs to around £7.5k a year.

"But we also get money back from shop counter collection boxes, grotto entry fees and tombola raffles. Over the next two years we are budgeting £7k a year with a predicted income of £2k -£3k."

There is an overall annual shortfall in income, then, of around £4k; but town councillor and Homend retailer, Cllr Annette Crowe, believes it is a price worth paying by the town council.

She said: "It's for the children, on one day of the year, and I think it should be council financed."

Cllr Crowe pointed out at that traders, including herself and the deputy mayor, Cllr Elaine Fieldhouse, are actively involved with the Christmas lights.

And this year, traders have played a key role in organising the "Dickensian New Street" event for the switch-on day.