Air show may need taxpayer funding

TAXPAYERS in north Suffolk may have to wait until the autumn before discovering if they will be asked to foot the bill for the highly successful Lowestoft Air Show.

By David Lennard

TAXPAYERS in north Suffolk may have to wait until the autumn before discovering if they will be asked to foot the bill for the highly successful Lowestoft Air Show.

The two-day festival last week was once again a big hit with thousands of visitors despite poor weather on the second day and the non-appearance of the RAF Red Arrows display team.

But despite its popularity and the millions of pounds in revenue it generates for the area, the long-term future of the show is uncertain.

European funding that has helped to keep the event going runs out next year and it was hoped that it would then become self-financing.

Extra sponsors have been found over the past few years but more will be needed if financial targets are to be met.

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Peter Austin, leader of the Waveney District Council, will not say if the air show will be dropped if any financial shortfall cannot be met.

"It's a matter of cost. It would be extremely foolhardy for us to commit ourselves to a large budget to cover the air show in two years' time," he said.

"We have to look at the out-turn of this year's event and see what the liabilities are," said Mr Austin.

His Conservative group took control of the council following the local elections in May this year when they made reducing the burden on council tax payers a number one priority in their manifesto.

Although the Conservative group is the largest single party on the district council it does not have an outright majority and relies on support from independents and Liberal Democrats to get its policies approved.

Asking residents across the Waveney district to support the event through their council tax payments has previously been described as "a last resort" by Mr Austin.

"If at the end of the day it was going to amount to a large liability for the council tax-payer, we would have to consult with them to see if they were prepared to stomach it," he said.

Labour members of the district council believes the extra revenue it brings to the area make the air show worth supporting.

David Jermy, leader of the Labour group, said: "It now appears the Tory administration has no plans to allow the air show to continue – is this yet another popular event to be axed?"

Council officials will be preparing a detailed account of the costs involved in staging the air show and the income it generates.

The council's ruling executive will then be able to make a decision on the event's future in the autumn when this year's figures are finalised.

Apart from attracting more sponsors or increasing the council taxes other options to keep the air show going include setting up a charitable trust or an independent company to run it.

People living in the Waveney area saw a steep rise in their council taxes this year with the county council putting up its share of the total bill by more than 18% and the district council by more than 15%.

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