CRITICS calling for Illuminations bosses to show their mettle after the disappointments of the 2011 display might be surprised to hear that metal thieves certainly showed their true colours.
Even before the Lights were launched by TV comedy creation Keith Lemon, well-organised raiders had stolen yard upon yard of essential cable from the seafront display, adding to the other setbacks which ranged from gale damage of tableaux to destruction of other pieces in the inferno that destroyed the storage warehouse.
The loss of the cable, which had been kept in place year round without incident, resulted in sections of the Lights remaining in darkness as millions of visitors passed through.
The theft is revealed today by Head of Illuminations Richard Ryan, who said: “Cocker Square to Gynn Square had no lighting this year and this was nothing to do with cutbacks. Metal thieves stole all the cable that is permanently installed there and we have been fighting a battle with good support from the police.
“There is no point putting something back if someone is going to steal it again, so for next year we have plans to create Illuminations for that section that will not be so easy for thieves to take.
With the loud grumbles still echoing in his ear, Mr Ryan admitted: “We have had a tough year. But what people don’t realise is that we had a really ambitious programme and, in the shape of things, we delivered.”
He points to sections like Bling and the outside of the Tower top, which features one million of the brightest LEDs available, 2,000 lamps and strobes.
“We have been criticised by some, perhaps understandably, for not lighting up the Tower legs and the overall aim is to do just that but it will be a couple of years because of the sandblasting work that is going on. In fact our aim is to make the Tower truly world class in terms of lighting. Personally I would love to complete the Tower in a year but it is physically impossible. As it is you cannot miss it from the end of the M55. Some have dismissed it as a fibre optic Christmas tree, but it is purely subjective – there is no right or wrong.”
More than £300,000 was swallowed up in the essential repairs to tableaux damaged by the gales last November.
Mr Ryan said: “People think we have done nothing to them because they look the same but they have actually been made to a higher standard than before, with some health and safety modifications that nobody would see.”
However, other changes to the Lights are down to the economy.
“A top level decision was taken to remove the festoons along the road at the northern end as a cost cutting measure.”
Likewise a third of a mile – out of a six mile total – was lost by not starting the display at Starr Gate.
“Savings had to be made. This has been a very tough year, no question. The local authority is under increasing financial pressure and has no legal duty to provide the Illuminations. It is to the council’s credit that it decides to support to the tune of £2m a year, a non-essential service.
“Yet we are not just a service, we are a manufacturing business. You cannot buy Illuminations off the shelf. We make things and the cost of the basic items, from cabling to lamps have all gone up faster than inflation.”
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