A point of light

First published in Comment

“DOES the North-East want the Lumiere light festival to return in 2013?”

So begins our story on Page 18 as Durham County Council begins three months of consultation.

The answer must surely be a brilliantly illuminated “yes” – although there are plenty of lessons that must be learned.

Lumiere is a great idea: a historic and beautiful city centre transformed by magical artworks into a city of light.

Last November, too many people were attracted by this tantalising prospect and 150,000 flocked to the narrow streets of Durham City. Lumiere was a victim partly of its own success and partly because of the way it had been laid out.

We are not crowd management specialists but longer hours, more nights, a better publicised and more coherent route map, fewer unlit riverside paths, more informed stewards, a continuous programme at the cathedral, some ticketing, and integration with the rail network are ideas we’d suggest.

But do we want it back? Yes.

At a time when town centres are said to be dying, it would be ironic if Durham said no because Lumiere attracted too many people to the restaurants and shops of its centre.

Even though it is a gamble with the weather, as a financial computation, another Lumiere looks a no-brainer: the county council invests £400,000 and the local economy gains £4.3m.

But there are wider considerations about culture, heritage, community enjoyment, sense of occasion and sense of place.

Usually on a November night, our town centres are surrendered to the nightclub-goers and the bingedrinkers.

It was great to see the families of Durham reclaim their streets and turn them into a carnival.

And in these dark economic times, we need as many points of light as we can find – but the next Lumiere must be better switched on than the last one.

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