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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Price rise proposed for Antrim festive event as council considers overcrowding complaints



Antrim and Newtownabbey councillors are being asked to consider a price rise at a festive flagship event despite a profit of more than £140,000 last year.


A report to be presented at a meeting of the borough council on Monday evening has proposed hiking prices for admission to the Enchanted Winter Garden event at Antrim Castle Gardens this Christmas.


An increase to £7.50 per adult and £5 per child from £6 and £4 respectively has been proposed.



Officers have suggested expanding the event area into a field space and include additional lighting installations and attraction. However, this expansion plan is expected to increase the cost of delivering the event by approximately £100,000.


Councillors were told at a meeting behind closed doors earlier this year that profits from the high profile event during the next five years are required to help cover the cost of the newly-created ‘Clockwork Garden’ feature by celebrity garden designer Diarmuid Gavin at Antrim Castle Gardens.


Last year, Antrim and Newtownabbey’s Enchanted Winter Garden event made a profit of £143,000.



The Clockwork Garden will mark the Queen’s platinum jubilee and the return of Garden Show Ireland this Friday (April 29) and will be a permanent attraction at the location.


Councillors have already been told that the Clockwork Garden will cost an undisclosed sum to be funded by 50 per cent from the show garden and celebrity gardener budget for Garden Show Ireland and the income surplus generated by the 2021 Enchanted Winter Garden event. The remainder is expected to be covered by profits from Enchanted Winter Garden events during the next five years.


The council spent over £0.5m hosting the Enchanted Garden event at Antrim Castle Gardens in 2021 which brought in an income of £685k. The sum of £20k was spent on television advertising.



The event attracted 118,748 visitors with almost 87 per cent travelling from outside the borough. A total of 126,000 tickets were available.


A price rise was implemented last year despite opposition from some councillors who reminded colleagues of families being faced with “serious economic difficulties”.


In 2019, the event was attended by 86,000 visitors bringing in a revenue of £350,000, councillors were told previously.


Admission to the Enchanted Winter Garden which commenced in 2013 was free of charge for the first four years before a charge of £2 for adults and £1 for children was introduced.



 

Ahead of tonight Council meeting, a report to councillors outlines a three options to address complaints of overcrowding from the event in 2021:


“Whilst feedback from the event was largely positive there was significant commentary in the post event survey and on social media about the event being too crowded and queue times too long. In planning for the event consideration has been given to a number of options to address this for 2022 as follows:


1. Reduce the overall capacity of the event on each evening and run for the same number of evenings – this will reduce the income generated by the event. If the capacity was reduced from 7500 as in 2021 to 6000 this would achieve a reduction in income from ticket sales at 2021 rates of £135,000.


2. Reduce the overall capacity on each evening of the event but increase to number of evenings the event is delivered to reach the same overall capacity (this would require an additional 5 evenings to be added to the 18) – this will mitigate against some of the income loss estimated above, however it would also create a corresponding increase in the running costs of the event likely to cancel out the additional income.


3. Expand the event area into the event field space and include additional content in the form of lighting installations and attractions so there is no need to reduce the capacity on each evening of the event from the current 7500 level however this will increase the costs of delivering the event by approximately £100,000.


“Officers would propose Option 3 for 2022 with the event running over 18 nights, including two inclusive sessions as in 2021, from 26 November through to 20 December 2022 at a cost of £46,000.


“However, in order to generate the additional income required to cover the additional expenditure whilst still having protection from the financial impact of weather related cancellation it is proposed to increase admission charges to the level originally proposed for the 2021 event as follows:


• Adult £7.50

• Child £5.00

• Family of Four £22.00

• Under 2’s Free


“If the overall numbers attending the event were the same as 2021 this can achieve an increase in ticketing income of £120,000 net.”


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