A NUMBER of spectacular attractions to make Barnard Castle the place to visit during the festive season were aired at the town council's Christmas lights committee on Monday.

New regulations and a lack of assistance had contributed to what some thought a poor display in the town last December. But members of Teesdale marketing, who had been invited to address the meeting, came up with many new ideas and suggestions, some of which it might be possible to take on board following a feasibility study.

Teesdale marketing chairman, Mr Bill Oldfield, said they had gone away from the last meeting to look at the shortfall in budget and manpower and ways of speeding up the improvements needed to lampposts. They had identified sums up to £50,000 available for the right schemes. He stressed that although the things he was about to mention were merely at the ideas stage, they were by no means impossible and would give Barnard Castle a magnificent Christmas celebration.

There was talk of laser shows projected onto the castle walls, fire work displays, and a procession involving community groups such as happened for the centenary of the Bowes museum. If they came off it would be a way of bringing community and church groups together with the business sector to provide a dazzling festivity.

Teesdale marketing had looked at grants, which were not available just for festive lights. But considerable money was available from bodies such as the heritage lottery fund or Northern Arts Lottery, which secretary Mr Chris Dauber singled out as a particular target and favourite of his. But to apply, any project must be community oriented and led. A typical decision on qualification took eight-ten weeks, with decisions taken locally.

Mr Oldfield then introduced Ms Jill Cole of the performing theatre group Jack Drum arts. Ms Cole has worked with all sorts of community organisations, is on the steering group of the Witham Hall committee, which is seeking funding for a proposed £5m improvement scheme, and has a wealth of experience in applying for funding.

She was keen to become involved in determining whether the project was feasible, feeling the town needed something to feel proud of. If funding were available they could provide something exciting that would attract people to the town as well as giving locals the display they craved. A lantern parade would make a good start to the switching on of the lights; she knew some quite simple lantern techniques that could involve school groups and older people.

Instead of the crib they might present the nativity in a different way, possibly going completely hi-tech, which could be repeated on the two Fridays before Christmas. "A good light show would really put Barnard Castle on the map while being vandal proof," she said. Although she too emphasised that these were just ideas at the moment.

Mr Oldfield said whatever they came up with would need to have a continuous theme with a Christmas message.

Coun Eric Fell felt there were a whole host of ideas and funders. What they now needed was a feasibility study in which part and parcel must be money for the Christmas lights.

Mr Oldfield replied that the whole purpose was to address the issues of the lights. But they were much more likely to be able to raise money if they were looking at a much larger project. "It might be contentious and will no doubt have its critics," he added.

He proposed they ask Ms Cole to apply for £1,000 grant to fund a feasibility study. Teesdale marketing would pay her £100 for her time so there would be no initial cost to the town council. "If she is successful we would come back to yourselves and see if you approved of the things she was coming forward with," he told councillors.

Coun John Yarker thought the procession a good idea, but emphasised that the town council had a responsibility to the taxpayer and to businesses.

Coun Fell said they could fire people up, but they had to know that grants were coming because the town council could not be liable for spending £25,000 on Christmas lights.

Mr Oldfield cpnfirmed Teesdale marketing was happy to support the project, but it had to remain a town council initiative.

Ms Cole was given the go ahead to see if she could get £1,000 from the rural development programme for the study. She will report back at the next meeting on April 23.