Preston city centre will be lit up by the biggest light show in its history this Christmas.
An £80,000 cash pot has been put together to ensure the city’s main shopping areas of Fishergate and Friargate, plus side streets Winckley Street, Cannon Street, Guildhall Street and part of Church Street, will be lit up.
The council is also expected to announce free parking in the run-up to the festive period, after a push led by the Evening Post’s Support Our Shops campaign to back under-pressure traders.
A special two-day festive Lancashire market will be held on the Flag Market, expected to attract up to 50,000 visitors.
Mark Whittle, a spokesman for the Preston Business Improvement District (BID), said it was also in talks with a number of “A-list stars” about flicking the switch on the lights in just over a month.
He said: “Traders told us that last year parts of Preston were quite ‘unfestive’ and that, after the big bang of the switch-on, things died off.
“What we saw then was the impact of the reduction of the council’s budget for the lights, which was reduced to £27,000. We are adding an extra £50,000 on top of that.”
The BID is also splashing out on a major advertising push - including a campaign on regional television - and has secured the backing of supermarket giant Waitrose for the market.
The market, which drew a crowd of 35,000 to Friargate in one day last Christmas, is expected to have more than 60 stalls on the Flag Market and surrounding streets including Harris Street and Birley Street.
Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce which runs the BID, said the decision to shift the market from Friargate to the Flag Market was only a temporary one.
She said: “It would simply be impossible to properly secure the market on Friargate, so we are moving it onto the Flag Market - but it will be back on Friargate for Easter 2012.”
Today, traders on Preston’s “forgotten” side streets hailed news of the lights as a major boost as they head into a crucial Christmas trading period.
Natalia Lotocka, who runs the Mystery Tea Shop on Cannon Street, said: “We are a bit forgotten down here on Cannon Street and hopefully this will extend the city centre down to our little bit of it.”
Restaurateur Dean Mather, who opened The Steak House on the street last month, said he was looking to open a stall on the two-day market.
He said: “I also run the New Britannia pub on Heatley Street, off Friargate, so we have seen the benefits the market have brought to Friargate and I think it will be terrific on the Flag Market.
“We are going to have a charcoal grill down there and sell some cocktails and real ale from the pub and I know there is going to be a mulled wine stall there as well, so it should be a real draw for people.”
Emma Almond, the owner of fashion store Miss Matilda’s Boutique on Winckley Street, said: “We do our own Christmas window display but if we can get the lights coming off Fishergate and onto Winckley Street it adds to the overall ambience of the area.”
Council environment director Mick Lovatt said there would be free parking on late night shopping Wednesday and Thursday nights from November 23 until December 22 on the Market car park and until December 19 on the Bus Station car park.
The proposals still have to be approved by Coun Robert Boswell, the council’s executive member for environment.
Mr Lovatt said: “The Market car park is usually the most popular for Christmas shoppers and we would urge other car park owners to make their parking free for Christmas.”