The leader of Nottingham City Council has said they didn’t fully anticipate the large number of people who attended the city centre Christmas Market, which had to close after one day.
He said the council had decided to go ahead with the market in the hope of boosting the local economy, but that they had been caught out, with higher attendance than expected.
The market was suspended, before being scrapped altogether after pictures showed huge crowds of people, with little or no social distancing evident in Old Market Square on Saturday, December 5.
Speaking at a meeting of the full council today (Monday, January 11), Councillor David Mellen, who represents the Dales ward for Labour, said: “Given that outdoor markets were allowed at the time under the COVID restrictions in place at the beginning of December, a wide range of measures were put in place to follow available guidance.
“Together with plans to control access to help monitor and manage the amount of people attending the market site at any one time.
“We perhaps didn’t anticipate how many people would be in the city centre, on a fine day after the previous period of lockdown, and as things turned out the numbers were too large to implement our planned measures effectively.
“Our intention was to help support the local economy and bring some festive cheer to the city centre in a safe, managed outdoor way as part of the reopening of non-essential retail after the second national lockdown.
“Public safety was always first and foremost in all decisions taken, and when it was clear that this wasn’t secure a decision was made to close the market.
“Councillor Trimble took the right decision at that time and public apologies were issued.”
Councillor David Trimble is the portfolio holder for leisure, and gave the final go ahead for the market.
Asked about the decision today, he said: “I have accepted this was a mistake, I have publicly apologised, and it certainly won’t happen again.
He was asked specifically, by the leader of the Clifton Independents, councillor Kevin Clarke, about what concerns were raised by the Security Advisory Group for Events (SAGE), which is consulted before major public events, and met twice in the run up to the market to discuss the proposals.
Councillor Trimble, who represents Wollaton East for Labour, said: “There were some concerns about whether it would be possible to control large numbers and enforce compliance,” and that “A closely monitored, phased introduction avoiding anticipated crowded shopping times, following the lockdown, would be prudent.”
Councillor Clarke, who represents Clifton East, replied: “While we accept that the city’s safety and advisory group for events did not specifically call for the market to be cancelled, they did say, and I directly quote, that ‘numbers of agencies consider the risk of COVID transmission cannot be eliminated entirely, and may be unnecessarily increased by the activity.
“Given that advice clearly stated that holding the event risked increasing COVID cases, does the portfolio holder accept that even without the benefit of hindsight, he was taking an unnecessary risk with public health.
Councillor Trimble replied that the council had taken the decision ‘with good intentions’ to help local businesses, that it had been planned to be a much smaller event, but that “in hindsight, absolutely should have closed it.”