Causeway Coast and Glens Councillors have approved a new venue location and dates for a new International Airshow for 2022, to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
The proposal came before the Leisure and Development Committee on Tuesday evening with DUP Group Lead Aaron Callan calling it ‘an exciting opportunity’. However, some Sinn Fein councillors criticised the report for having no budget, speculating it could cost over £0.5 million.
UUP Alderman Norman Hillis said the event would be ‘quite something’ and would be a ‘major contributor’ to the borough’s tourism programme for 2022.
He said: “It has been proved that it is a big economic event which was researched in the past.
“It’s a good crowd puller and it will be a boost for morale and even better it brings cash into our area.”
Although happy to support the proposal, the Causeway councillor said he had some concerns about moving it from its previous location of East Strand, Portrush.
“I have some trepidation about moving it but I fully understand. I suppose health and safety and the powers that be, need to be very careful.
“In the past the event was in Portrush and the fireworks were in Portstewart in the evening so everyone was gaining. We want everyone to benefit from events. The fact that the event will be between Portrush and Portstewart will this have any detriment to the coastal towns?”
Peter Thompson, the council officer explained there would be activities that will benefit both resort towns.
Sinn Féin Councillor Dermot Nicholl hit out at the Director of Leisure of Development for allowing the report to come forward without a budget.
“I can’t concur with previous speakers in recommending this. I am galled that the Director has let this report come to us about this event.
“Item 6.6 says the budget is to be confirmed, we haven’t even agreed a budget or talked about it.
“I’m led to believe and I can imagine that this is going to cost between £500,000 and £750,000.
“There are better ways of spending money. I am disappointed in Mr Baker letting this report come forward, it really doesn’t sit well.”
Responding to the Benbradagh councillor, Director Richard Baker said: “There is a council decision here and that’s to develop a new International Causeway Airshow for 2022 and the two fundamental points are the location, format and date of the event. We will build the budget around that,” he said.
“If I had brought you a budget prior to tonight, it would have been pure speculation. We have to go through a process here, part one is the date, the location, the format which is tonight’s decision.”
Mayor, Councillor Richard Holmes asked ‘roughly what sort of money we were budgeting for this?’
Mr Baker explained the previous event was ‘an event that was highly successful’.
He added: “The Sheffield Hallam report confirmed there was a £2.5 million impact of new money coming into the borough and there was also in excess of 100,000 people attending the event.
“It is going to be no cheaper in terms of net cost than the previous event. That cost circa £210,000”
As matters got heated Sinn Fein Councillor Sean Bateson said it was ‘ridiculous’ that council were prepared to ‘fork out three quarters of a million for essentially a show of unionism’.
Committee Chair DUP Councillor John McAuley stated: “It has already been clarified that we don’t know what the budget is. It was asked what the previous spend was which was £210,000 so I don’t know where you and your colleagues are getting £0.75M from.”
PUP Councillor Russell Watton suggested some Members were ‘doing a bit of electioneering.’
He added: “They just don’t like anything to do with the British military.
“The airshow at £210,000 has gone up to £0.75M, I wouldn’t be wanting Councillor Bateson to be doing my wages!”
Alliance Councillor Chris McCaw provided a rational voice saying councillors needed to be ‘talking about the positivity’.
He said: “Yes, celebrating the Platinum Jubilee is one of the aims of the International airshow, it’s also to drive economic and tourism benefit, to extend the tourism season, to act as a regional event for Northern Ireland and to act as an economic driver for the whole area and that’s what we need to focus on.
“Everybody is entitled to their own identity but this shouldn’t be about this divisive issue, it should be a unifying thing.”
Bringing the debate to a close, DUP Alderman Duddy said councillors who were ‘firing out figures of £0.5M and £0.75M were irresponsible.’
He said: “It is absolutely astounding. It is not factual and certainly isn’t what you would call not open and transparent.”
Members approved the new flight path which will see spectators viewing from the A2 Coast Road, between Portrush and Portstewart on September 10 and 11, 2022, with 11 votes in favour and 5 against.