THE lack of a Christmas lights switch-on event has been blamed for a significant drop in customers at Basildon’s Eastgate Centre.

Councillor David Burton-Sampson told the economic growth and development committee the shopping centre suffered a 24 per cent drop in trade in the week which traditional follows the switch-on.

But Ian Clark, centre manager at the Eastgate Centre, pointed towards the closure of the A13 that weekend as a partial reason for the drop, but did admit it was disappointing not to have a major event in the town to kickstart Christmas.

Despite the slow start, the Christmas period was described as a success, with footfall regularly exceeding national averages.

During the committee meeting, Mr Burton-Sampson said: “I meet regularly with the centre manager at the Eastgate Centre and as ward councillor he is always willing. He shared with me some footfall figures which he was happy to share, and we as a council, or you as an administration, let us down with the Christmas launch.

“Was there going to be a launch, wasn’t there going to be a launch? We can’t let that kind of thing happen again and we need to be very, very clear in future about doing everything around key events. to support businesses in this borough while they are going through this period of real struggle.

"He reported that trade that week, compared to the launch last year, was 24 per cent down, which was way below the national average.

“As the Christmas period developed, we got better but you let them down as an administration. Things made public came in at the last minute, and they have got goodwill at heart, but many of their events are at night, when the town is dead.”

Mr Clarke said: “We were down at the start of the month, but that first weekend the A13 was also closed. I was working and it took me and hour and 20 minutes to do 12 miles, so you can understand why people didn’t come to Basildon. Yes, ideally we would have had a Christmas launch and it may have improved footfall, but I do think the A13 was a factor too.

"Positively, the rest of the Christmas period was successfully, and we were above national averages consistently.”

Nationally, total retail sales showed no year-on-year growth in December, the British Retail Consortium (BRC)-KPMG retail sales monitor said.

This marked the worst December performance since 2008.