There have been many comments recently about this year’s Christmas Tree on the Common. The arguments on social media about who is responsible for what happens and what doesn’t happen have been going around in circles without really getting anywhere.
In 2011 Newport City Council, which was controlled at the time by a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, told Caerleon that it would no longer support or fund a Christmas tree on the Common. Gail Giles was then the only Labour councillor representing Caerleon. She fought tooth and nail to overturn that decision – and won. Without her efforts there would almost certainly have been no Christmas Tree that year.
Since 2012, when Labour won all three seats in Caerleon, Councillors Gail Giles, Cliff Suller and Paul Huntley have worked extremely hard to maintain the tradition of a Christmas tree on the Common. They injected funds from their Neighbourhood Allowances, they liaised with council officials to make sure that the tree was erected safely and set up sponsorship schemes with local businesses for the sourcing and installation of the tree. Above all they purchased the lights, which are still used every year. They are very grateful for all the help they have received, and appreciated the offer by a small group of local residents to put up baubles. Unfortunately there was a lot of criticism – most of it politically motivated – because one of our councillors advised the group informally that it would not be a good idea for them to climb up the tree. So the baubles went up on the safety fence instead. The story was fed to the media by our political opponents, in a biased way, with deliberately unflattering pictures of the tree without the lights on during the day. It went viral and portrayed Caerleon in a very bad light throughout Wales. The bauble advice was characterised as “Health and Safety gone mad”.
In recent years the tree, the annual Carol Service on the Common and refreshments in the Town Hall afterwards – all organised by the councillors – have been increasingly merged with “Christmas in Caerleon”, which has become a series of events under the umbrella of the Caerleon Tourism Forum, Caerleon Festival, Santa in Caerleon, the local schools and St Cadocs Church. So “Christmas in Caerleon” is increasingly becoming a community project. It’s partly funded by the councillors from their Neighbourhood Allowances but it is also dependent on all the other voluntary bodies in Caerleon. The whole tree exercise has become extremely expensive and the councillors do not have the resources to fund all of it themselves. Suggestions that the contractors who were employed to put up the lights should have also spent time positioning the baubles on the tree were not seen as reasonable either by the council or the councillors. It would have increased the cost considerably.
The organisers have now been advised by Newport City Council officials that people should not hang baubles on the safety fence this year because it would “hinder legitimate maintenance access and could represent a danger to children due to low hanging combustible and breakable materials”. This is the advice, and councillors are in no position to challenge it. It was evident last year that a number of broken glass baubles were scattered across the nearby grass. It is not clear whether it was by the wind or by vandals – or possibly both.
There are a number of people who have already said on social media that they would prefer to see the tree decorated simply with lights, and are grateful that Caerleon is the only community outside the centre of Newport which has its own tree. So views are split on this.
Our councillors are extremely grateful for all the help and encouragement they have received from most sectors of the community over the last few years, and wish all of their constituents a happy Christmas and New Year. And they would appeal to their critics to understand the problems they have encountered in trying to keep “Christmas in Caerleon” alive. Quite rightly it is increasingly a community event and we are sure that future organisers will continue to take it forward and liaise with Caerleon residents.Please see it in that light – and support it!