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EXCLUSIVE: Four-month Perth Winter Festival axed over coronavirus safety fears

Perth Winter Festival events, including the city’s star-studded Christmas lights switch-on ceremony, have been axed.

Council chiefs confirmed on Friday they have pulled the plug on the four-month extravaganza.

They say it is impossible to run with this year’s programme, while complying with current guidelines on social distancing and public health.

Planning for the festival, which delivers an estimated £2m boost to the local economy, would put an extra strain on already under pressure resources.

The move has been described as both a “huge blow” to the area, but also the “only feasible option”.

Around 90,000 people descended on the city centre for the 2019 show, which included a headline set from Atomic Kitten.

Perth city centre turns into mini-music festival for massive Christmas lights party

Previous star guests have included Peter Andre, Billy Ocean and Slade, with TV presenter Stephen Mulhern compering the last two shows.

Keith McNamara, depute director for the council’s housing and environment service, told The Courier: “For the last seven years, we have developed a programme of events running from October to January that became the highly popular Perth Winter Festival.

“We had hoped that we would be able to continue this in 2020, however it is with regret that we can confirm that this year we will not be holding a Winter Festival.”

He said planning would “require a level of resources that we cannot dedicate while we continue to respond to the current pandemic.”

Mr McNamara said there will be Christmas lights, but no switch-on ceremony.

In a paper to go before the environment and infrastructure committee on Wednesday, tourism and place team leader Alan Graham said rules around outdoor gatherings were likely to be relaxed as part of phase four of the Scottish Government’s plan to move out of lockdown.

“Nevertheless, the nature of the events within the Winter Festival is such that it would be impractical to hold events along the previous lines while still being compliant with social distancing and other public health measures,” he added.

Committee convener Angus Forbes said it appeared to be a “sensible” approach.

“I understand that this will be a huge blow to Perth and the surrounding area,” he said. “People travel from far and wide to attend this event, which is regarded as one of the best in Scotland.”

He said: “Whilst Christmas is still some months away and things may change between now and then, an event of this scale requires a lot of forward planning and expense, so we need to consider the cost to the public purse which may ultimately be wasted if the event was cancelled at short notice.”

His concerns were echoed by local SNP MP Pete Wishart. “Whilst it will be disappointing for many people, I think the recommendation to cancel the Winter Festival this year is the correct one.

“Whilst we are doing our best in the battle against Covid-19, I have massive reservations about committing public money to an event which would be unlikely to go ahead.

“We are already seeing localised clusters of the virus and we just have no idea where we will be come late November.

“I think that cancelling is regrettable, but the only feasible option this year.”

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