TOURISM could take a hit in Thornbury as district bosses consider whether to axe their planting and verges maintenance budget.

As part of austerity measures, South Gloucestershire Council is looking to make drastic cuts to save £42 milllion by 2014/2015. This would mean withdrawing completely the £328,000 spent annually on areas of streetcare, including the provision of flower displays, hanging baskets and at least 20 per cent of shrub beds.

The news came as a shock to members of Thornbury in Bloom, the town's team of dedicated volunteer gardeners.

Although minor compared to much larger budget cuts to areas like youth provision, such a move could be detrimental to Thornbury, which relies heavily on its appearance and charm as an economic asset, they said.

The group, which has repeatedly won regional and national horticulture awards for its magnificent displays, has put Thornbury on the tourist map over the years.

Former chairman Sue Aitken agreed that concessions had to be made in difficult economic times but felt tapping into the planting fund was a very "short-sighted" solution.

"We are obviously objecting," she said. "We will still be able to have flowers in the beds but either the town council or In Bloom will have to pay for them or provide them.

"It’s something that helps bring people in the town. We need tourists and we need shoppers."

Thornbury In Bloom raises £12,000 each year through charity events, plant sales and donations and the group also receives a £1,000 grant from the town council. That is on top of the work already paid for and delivered by the local authority.

The move would put volunteers under pressure to raise thousands more pounds each year and put even more work into the town’s upkeep to maintain current standards. The onus would also be on the town council to foot the bill for basic street care maintenance.

"We don’t want people to panic," Mrs Aitken added. "It’s not going to affect us this summer but it will next summer. We need to start planning ahead."

Although South Gloucestershire Council recognised that slashing its street care budget would leave a "considerable shortfall", it stated in a report that it would also grant more responsibility to towns and parishes in the "spirit of Localism".

A council spokesman said a public consultation over the cuts would begin in early March.

"It will go in a couple of phases," he said. "The first will be general and the second will involve consulting with individual parishes."