PROMISES of a fireworks spectacular above the city of York sparked condemnation from spectators after thousands struggled in vain to see the display.

Secrecy had shrouded the location of the launch site off Bootham, with City of York Council encouraging people to head for the city centre for a good vantage point.

Thousands flocked to the Minster and Clifford's Tower, assuming the colourful thunderbolts would be visible above the city landmarks.

But as muffled bangs sounded in the distances, crowds saw none of the aerial show.

With views obscured by buildings, people swarmed on to the roads and headed towards open areas, such as Lendal Bridge and Museum Gardens, blocking the path of motorists and buses.

York council has defended its reason for remaining quiet about where the fireworks were being launched for safety reasons.

"If there had been hundreds of people around the launch site it would have been impossible to do it," said Councillor Keith Orrell, executive member for leisure and heritage.

He explained the aim was to deliver "a skyline production" visible from considerable distances, and hailed the event a success.

In the countdown to the 5.30pm show, Paul Sammut, 31, an IT consultant from Clifton Park, described the atmosphere outside the Minster as "buzzing".

Afterwards, he said: "It was just chaotic."

Newlyweds Martin and Deborah Briggs, both formerly of York, also added to the occasion as they left St Michael-le-Belfry Church, High Petergate, with wedding guests waving sparklers to celebrate their union.

Nearby, however, stewards were trying to clear the roads as motorists coming through Bootham Bar struggled to pass through the masses in Duncombe Place.

After the display, Andrew Milner, a sales manager from York, said: "It is another council cock-up because people didn't know where it was going to be. We were in front of the Minster. We couldn't see a thing. We moved with the rest of the crowd and still got an obscured view. They should have told us where it would be or held it on the Knavesmire where there's plenty of room."

Labour leader Dave Merrett said: "The display was fairly spectacular but the reverse can be said about the organisation. Clearly Lendal and Ouse Bridge were blocked by pedestrians. People couldn't get through to the station and were going to miss trains. All the vehicles and buses were gridlocked.

"There are a lot of lessons to be learnt."

Green councillor Andy D'Agorne said the council should have anticipated crowds flocking to Lendal Bridge and stopped traffic, or diverted it from the area.

"It was potentially dangerous, with families with small children jammed close to crowds surrounding cars and a bus stuck on Lendal Bridge," he said.

York resident Richard Burton said: "The council could have made such a big thing of this. There are thousands here. But as usual York Council are rubbish. I can't understand why they didn't want people to know where the display was."

Sue Francis added: "Cars were driving through, at people. They should have been kept away. There were disabled people in wheelchairs being beeped out of the way."

Leisure chief defends secrecy over display

CITY of York Council has defended its reasons for keeping mum about the fireworks launch site, amid criticism that residents were left in the dark about the celebration.

Coun Keith Orrell, executive member for leisure and heritage, said: "For the kind of fireworks we wanted to give the city it was imperative the location was kept secret."

"If there had been hundreds of people around it would have been impossible to do it."

He said the aim was to deliver "a skyline production", visible from considerable distances.

He said he felt it went "very well". "I think people now will appreciate we needed to have a very wide area for the fire works for safety reasons because they were so big and the fall-out covered such a wide area."

Residents near the launch site behind St Peter's School, Bootham, went out to enjoy the display, he said.

"There was no atmosphere of hostility or animosity about it being held there."

"We managed to secure considerable funding for this so that it didn't cost the city a lot of money. That is a major consideration in future years."

He revealed that £38,000 came from the Urban Cultural Programme, a Government initiative, with the council ploughing £12,000 into the week of events.

Council leader Steve Galloway said today he had not been at the event, but those who were there had told him it was a good firework display that people had enjoyed. After being told by the Evening Press of the problems experienced in parts of the city centre, he said it was possible that some people did not see the fireworks, but added: "I can only say that your description conflicts with what I have been told. The atmosphere was great and there were lots of happy people."

Local views:

YORK resident Patrick Carrigan said: "Lendal Bridge should have been closed to traffic. We nearly saw accidents. The crowds were bulging out into the road."

RICHARD Hind, of York, said: "It wasn't well publicised what was happening. I had to look on the internet to find out what was going on."

Filipa Cox, of York, said: "They should have stopped cars going on Ouse Bridge. People were stepping into the roads, cars were beeping."

TONY Smith, of Stamford Bridge, said: "We couldn't see the fireworks. It is utter contempt for the public. They should have told people where it was."

ANGELA Ramage, who was visiting York with her mum, Anne, said: "It was very disappointing. I heard someone say it was the worst display they had seen."

HER mum, Anne Ramage added: "It was on the news that you would be able to see it from anywhere in the city. The ones we saw were lovely but we didn't see many."

The police

POLICE were out in force across the city to deal with the 400th anniversary celebrations, neighbourhood events and the crowd-pulling FA Cup match at Kit Kat Crescent.

Chief Superintendent Tim Madgwick said congestion and crowds were a natural consequence of staging city-wide events such as the fireworks display which brought chaos to the roads.

He said the priority was to ensure people's safety, and he had met senior members of City of York Council before the week-long programme of events to discuss and advise on issues involved.

"Both pedestrians and drivers stop and watch fireworks. One of the main congestion points was around Lendal Bridge. We briefed the council and our officers on these issues," he said.

The fire service

Bonfire Night celebrations kept fire crews busy around York and North Yorkshire night when they responded to 42 incidents.

A North Yorkshire Fire Service spokeswoman said it received 57 calls during the evening - similar to the number in 2004 - including 42 which were related to the festivities.

However, there were no major blazes and the ambulance service did not report any serious incidents as a result of the evening's events. Nineteen of the fire calls related to small bonfires caused by youngsters, while 17 callers had warned about bonfires which were subsequently found to have adequate supervision.

Crews tackled a burning garden shed in Constantine Avenue, in York, at 7.20pm. The cause was not known.

Updated: 08:30 Tuesday, November 08, 2005