TICKET sales for a York festival which lit up city landmarks left a £20,000 budget shortfall and sparked calls for admission charges to be axed.

Official figures obtained by City of York Council’s Liberal Democrat group showed 9,562 tickets were sold for the 2013 Illuminating York event, compared with 18,298 the year before. The party claimed rising prices were a key factor.

“Dual tickets” gave entry for events both at the Museum Gardens and Clifford’s Tower and 6,659 were sold, while 2,903 tickets allowing admission to one venue were purchased. The Lib Dems said £60,000 in ticket income was forecast but sales raised only £40,000 after VAT.

The council said the 2013 shortfall was balanced by a 2012 profit, and better city-centre footfall during the event – held between October 30 and November 2 – benefited York’s economy and visitor attractions, while bad weather may have affected ticket sales.

The 2012 festival, when charges were introduced for the first time, included a production by comedian Vic Reeves but was heavily criticised.

Coun Nigel Ayre, Lib Dem leisure, culture and tourism spokesman, said Illuminating York was being “brought to its knees” by the Labour council.

He said: “Labour first introduced charging to fund a celebrity-led production considered a let-down by the public and, despite this, increased prices further for 2013.

“Although this event was better received by those who did attend, it appears 2012’s problems and the price increase has put people off. Illuminating York was free under the previous Lib Dem administration, and Labour should think again about their approach and consider a return to this successful model.”

Gill Cooper, the council’s head of culture, heritage and tourism, said Illuminating York included 30 events, some free, and footfall during the festival was 29,620, 3,057 up on 2012 and 6,602 more than 2011.

She said: “This indicates the festival is contributing to the local economy, as does high attendance at partner events including the National Railway Museum, which 10,500 people attended, and York Minster, which welcomed 4,000 visitors.

“The £20,300 profit from the 2012 festival helped offset the 2013 shortfall and reflects the inevitable fluctuation we factor in, alongside bad weather on two evenings. This festival also generates important national media coverage.”