Council defends Sunderland Illuminations park entry charge

The launch nigt of last year's Sunderland Illuminations.
The launch nigt of last year's Sunderland Illuminations.
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Council bosses have defended a decision to charge for access to a city park during this year’s Sunderland Illuminations.

Visitors to this year’s illuminations display in Roker Park must pay £1 to access the event.

Roker Park fountain

Roker Park fountain

But ahead of Saturday night’s big switch-on, some Echo readers have questioned how the authority can do so, given the park’s history.

A plaque decorating a drinking water fountain dictates how Sir Hedworth Williamson, an 8th Baronet and MP from Whitburn, donated the parkland to the people of Sunderland.

It states: “This memorial is further intended gratefully to keep in memory that Sir H Williamson Bart and the ecclesiastical commissioners of England gave 17 acres of land for the purpose of forming this public park and pleasure ground for the free use of the people of Sunderland for ever.”

Almost 286,000 people visited the park during last year’s run of Sunderland Illuminations, which means the £1 charge could generate a huge windfall for the city.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s £1 or £50, it is supposed to be free.

Alan Vickers

The event drew in people from across the region and from as far as Manchester, Glasgow and Leicestershire, an average spend of £5.14 per person - a total of £1.5million put into the economy - while at the event.

The council says the charge will help off-set the cost of running the event, which costs thousands of pounds to stage.

Councillor John Kelly, cabinet member for health, wellness and culture, said while the event had been free to attend since its recent return, there were charges in their early years.

He said: “The city council is aware of this matter.

Roker Park fountain

Roker Park fountain

“Bringing back the Illuminations has become a major event and a very popular attraction in recent years with hundreds of thousands of visitors.

“The park remains fully accessible year round and throughout the day until the early evening during the Illuminations.

“The council is asking for a £1 contribution to the Illuminations in Roker Park, not just park access.”

Fulwell resident Alan Vickers, 82, who has an interest in local history, is among those to raise issue with the charge.

Councillor George Howe.

Councillor George Howe.

The former miner and shipyard worker, who lives with wife Freda, said: “The council is not allowed to do it.

“In an article I’ve read in the Echo, it says it is a nominal fee to visit Roker Park and Coun John Kelly says this is to guarantee the future of the illuminations for years to come.

“In this park there is a lovely fountain, which was assisted by the Sunday schools of Sunderland, and on that is says this is given to its people and is free for ever.

“It cannot be clearer than that.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s £1 or £50, it is supposed to be free.

“If Sunderland Council wants to save money, I think it can look at other areas.”

Councillor John Kelly.

Councillor John Kelly.

Fulwell Councillor George Howe, a Conservative member on the Labour-led council, said: “This park was given by a community-minded man, who did a community-spirited thing for the people to use.

“He left this 17 acres, just as someone else did with Backhouse Park, and it just shows the erosion that has been pushed through when this was for the benefit of the community.

“When I suggested they charge £1 for the airshow 15 years ago, they went beserk.

“I don’t know what they will make from the illuminations, but the people who will make the most will be the street vendors.”

More details on Sunderland Illuminations, which starts tonight and runs until Sunday, November 1, can be found via http://www.seeitdoitsunderland.co.uk/sunderland-illuminations.