WINCHESTER is taking its challenge to become the undisputed 'Christmas Capital' of England to the doorsteps of one of its nearest rivals.

The city has purchased billboard advertising in Salisbury's Castle Street.

Belatedly the Wiltshire county town has started a Christmas market at its cathedral some six years after Winchester.

Since then the Winchester market and ice rink has been a massive economic success for city shops, pubs and restaurants.

Last year an estimated 300,000 people visited Winchester with thousands coming on coach trips from across the country, people who would not normally have considered visiting Hampshire.

Now Salisbury is fighting back and has taken a billboard on Stockbridge Road near Winchester railway station.

Chris Turner, executive director of Winchester Business Improvement District, said: “We started it last year when there wasn't a market in Salisbury. They now have a market, a bit late in the day but they are starting to get their act together.”

Winchester has also rented some 25 billboards in London including at Waterloo to lure Londoners to Hampshire.

Ian Newman, chairman of Salisbury City Centre Management, said: “Last year the city's business community told us that we needed a Christmas market to help attract more people to the city in the all-important run up to Christmas. We have listened to them and have pulled out all the stops to bring a market to Salisbury this year.”

Prof Turner said he believed the Christmas phenomenon was a growing market. “Christmas is now vital for businesses. The 'leisurefication' of people's lives. We are all busier working in the week and therefore weekends are rather more complicated and so we start doing things like Christmas shopping earlier in the year.

A festive boost will be timely for the city centre after recent figures in a city council report showed a drop in footfall of ten per cent between April-September 2010-2012.

The report to the overview and scrutiny committee said; “Figures are disappointing, especially given significant footfall of the Lympic Torch Relay and Live Screen during the Olympics. Secondary shopping streets are doing least well.”