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Row erupts in St Michael's near Tenterden over plans for fake Christmas tree

By Rachael Woods

It may be scorching June, but a row over a Christmas tree has been the cause of a distinctly icy atmosphere in St Michael's.

The 15ft artificial pine tree, which had been erected each December in the village near Tenterden, for around seven years was destroyed last year when gale force winds tore off the top.

As a result, new Ashford mayor Cllr John Link, who is the borough council ward member for St Michael's, awarded a gift of £2,000, in the form of a discretionary grant, for a replacement.

Opinions are split over St Michaels' new Christmas tree

But when the St Michael's Community Group wanted to spend the money on a synthetic tree, complete with lights and imported from the USA, they unearthed a prickly subject.

The tree is traditionally sited each Christmas at the Point, near The Crown pub, and landlord Harry Purewal has slammed the decision as a waste of taxpayers' money.

His offer to supply a real tree and lights free of charge has been voted down. Mr Purewal said: "I am rather disgusted that taxpayers' money has been used in this way as it could have been set aside for good causes, such as the village hall."

His campaign for a real tree was supported by village handyman Alan Ormston, a St Michael's resident for 23 years, who gave the idea of an artificial tree a frosty reception.

He recalled the days when a real tree had pride of place outside The Crown and children from St Michael’s Primary School decorated it with handmade crafts.

"I am rather disgusted that taxpayers' money has been used in this way as it could have been set aside for good causes, such as the village hall..." - landlord Harry Purewal

In an impassioned email, Mr Ormston wrote: "Being a traditionalist, I am not sure I can believe a tree that is the height of our village sign, with 3,000 lights, matches what I imagine to be a traditional Christmas tree.

"Are we an English village and should we not try to portray that ethos to people who pass through our village?"

Mr Purewal slammed the transportation costs for importing a tree from America, adding: "The cost of shipping the tree from the USA is as much as the tree itself and it could end up being the target for vandals."

The St Michael's Community Group put the matter to the vote at a special meeting held at the London Beach Golf Club on Monday, attended by around 20 people, which saw the real tree supporters outvoted.

Ken Mulholland is chairman of the village community group and the group issued a statement thanking landlord Mr Purewal for his community support and offer of a tree, which they have "graciously declined".

The group stressed it was neutral and open to all and the matter had been put to the vote, so an artificial pine would now be bought. It is understood the exact tree has yet to be selected.

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