THE Top of Town will not have a Christmas tree this year after the leader of the council said there is “no space” for one.

Responding to frustrations from businesses at the Top of Town hoping for a tree to celebrate the festive season, Councillor Ken Rhatigan said: “There is no space available in Market Square for a Christmas tree”.

Businesses owners have expressed disappointment at the news labelling the lack of tree “a shame”.

The borough council has announced a host of festive-themed activities planned for the Top of Town in a bid to support small and independent businesses.

Throughout November and December, Love Basingstoke is presenting a programme of free family fun including Christmas markets, festive window displays and a light installation.

However, some traders have said it will not make any difference in attracting visitors to the area, and they are frustrated that they cannot have a Christmas tree and light switch-on event.

One business owner, who did not want to be named, told the Gazette that traders had requested a tree and light switch-on to bring people to the Top of Town, but the council said it would get in the way of the market.

He said: “Surely there must be a way to make it work? Every time we ask for something the answer is no, rather than looking at how it could be done.”

Duncan Stone, who owns tattoo studio Area 51 along with Careys barbers and hairdressers, both in Church Street, said the problem is that the businesses at the Top of Town are all separate.

Explaining further, he said: “The Top of Town is split there’s no one person who is in control of it like you have with Festival Place. So, if you try to ask for money for Christmas decorations some people don’t want to pay, so it never happens. We have tried for years.”

He added: “The council has limited funds so unless the council pays it won’t ever happen because we are split. It’s a shame.”

Asked if he thinks the events planned for the Top of Town throughout December will help attract more people to the area, he replied: “No, I don’t. The Top of Town is like all others across the country it’s been hit by online shopping and the pandemic.”

Cllr Rhatigan said: “To help shoppers get in the festive spirit, we will be providing Christmas lighting throughout the Top of the Town and have been working with businesses to coordinate a trail of Christmas window displays.

“As part of our work to boost footfall to the Top of the Town, an extensive programme of free entertainment and activities are planned throughout the festive period, following focus groups held with businesses.

“Launching on Sunday 21 November with a special light installation from Scratchbuilt Productions, our festive programme includes a series of Christmas markets for small and independent businesses to sell their products, family activities, workshops, live entertainment and Christmas projections which will light up the Willis Museum building after dark from Saturday 11 December.

“To provide our range of festive activities and the space for everyone to be able to enjoy them, there is no space available in Market Square for a Christmas tree. However, shoppers will be able to enjoy Christmas displays in The Malls and Festival Place as part of their visit to the town centre.”