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Northern Ireland airshow grounded after council hit by budget cutbacks

By Lisa Smyth

One of Northern Ireland’s most popular visitor attractions — the NI International Airshow — has been axed this year.

And in a further blow to the North Coast economy, Coleraine Borough Council’s budget for the coming year does not include lifeguard provision for beaches in the area — meaning Portrush White Rocks will lose its coveted Blue Flag status.

Due to the current financial climate Coleraine Borough Council voted against holding the airshow this year — which has been attracting crowds of 200,000 to enjoy the annual spectacle in recent years and was originally scheduled for the first weekend of September — at a recent meeting to strike the rates for 2010/11.

With appearances from the likes of the Red Arrows and aerial displays featuring current jets, historic aircraft and privately-owned machines, the airshow has proved itself as a massive draw and a major event in the council’s tourism calendar.

Launching last year’s International Airshow, the then mayor Sandy Gilkinson, said: “The airshow is a tremendous show and brings tourists in along with it.”

But last night a council spokesman confirmed the airshow has been cancelled and explained: “A number of sponsors have been forced to reduce their contribution to airshow funding. This is a direct consequence of the economic downturn.”

He said council has explored all options, including increasing its own contribution to this showpiece event, and that in normal circumstances the council would seek to offset the funding shortfall through additional sponsorship from private sector partners.

The decision to cancel the show came at the same meeting where the rates were struck for next year — calling into question the future of White Rocks as a Blue Flag beach and also raising concerns over the safety of swimmers.

In order to qualify for the award an adequate number of lifeguards and/or lifesaving equipment must be available at a beach and the Blue Flag may be withdrawn at any stage where essential criteria are not met — meaning West Bay could be stripped of the accolade before this summer.

Belfast Telegraph


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