Plug pulled on displays

Christmas shoppers could be left in the dark next year after a council decided not to continue funding town centre lights.

Bury St Edmunds Town Council voted on Monday to abandon financial responsibility for the town's carnival and Christmas lights from 2008, but agreed to consider contributing to each cause.

Last year, the council spent 30,000 on the Christmas lights and raised a further 30,000 in donations and grants. This year's budget was set at 12,000, with similar external contributions expected – but Linda Sherer, town council clerk, said there had been fewer donations since Abolish Bury Council party members announced their intentions.

The authority agreed to consider a grant for the lights up to a maximum of 10,000.

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Roy Bebbington said: "The Chamber of Commerce and Town Centre Management board had better start thinking about it. Traders benefit the most from the lights and if it means so much to them, let's put it to the test."

But Cllr Clive Springett, one of several councillors opposing the plan, said: "It's meant to be the season of goodwill, but it won't be if there aren't any lights."

The carnival was also branded costly and time consuming, with Cllr Edward Lockwood suggesting groups could collaborate to organise a carnival at the end of the Bury Festival.

The town council has been in turmoil since May's elections, when the ABC party won control, with the aim of dismantling the authority. The party lost its majority after a by-election in June and, since then, members have been battling over the council's future.

Chrissy Harrod, president of Bury's Chamber of Commerce, said: "It's a bolt out of the blue hearing this.

"We certainly don't want to lose the lights – they are as much for children and visitors who aren't all spending. They benefit everybody and I don't think it can be left to businesses to fund.

"This calls for the Town Centre Management, Chamber of Commerce and the town and borough councils to get together and decide the way forward."

Steve Peters, town centre manager, said: "The Christmas lights should be a positive thing and not used for political gain. The lights are there for the people of the town."

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Bebbington said: "As a Bury resident, there's no benefit to me in Christmas lights being provided. It may sound Scrooge-like, but I'm being honest."

A spokeswoman for St Edmundsbury Borough Council said the authority's role in Christmas lights was as a grant provider.