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English Riviera Airshow saved - and could be bigger

Wednesday, 9 August 2023 11:57

By Guy Henderson, local democracy reporter

Plans were up in the air (image courtesy: Guy Henderson)

Boats and ships spectacular too?

The English Riviera Airshow will be back with a bang in 2024 after councillors of all parties voted to back it.

Members of a special Torbay Council ‘spotlight’ committee went into their meeting on Tuesday with the option to slash the show in half or even axe it altogether to save money.

But they opted to make it bigger and better instead.

Only one person dissented throughout the three-hour meeting – that of Torquay Chamber of Trade chair Susie Colley, who said her members thought the whole show should be scrapped.

But others had nothing but support for the show which has been part of Torbay’s early-season tourist calendar since 2016. Now the council’s cabinet committee is expected to rubber-stamp its support when it meets next week.

Carolyn Custerson, chief executive of the English Riviera BID company which promotes the bay’s tourism, said the show could even be expanded to include a boats-and-ships spectacular on the water.

Committee chairman Cllr Adam Billings (Con, Churston with Galmpton) said the airshow was a ‘flagship event’ for Torbay and that it is important to get value for money now that the contract with the airshow’s previous provider had finished.

The meeting heard that while the show cost the council around £190,000 this year, every pound spent on it returned more than £15 into the local economy by people going to the show.

Mrs Custerson said it is part of a ‘year-round, world-class programme of events’ in the bay. “It’s a signature event and it has to happen,” she said, but she said improvements are needed in marketing and sponsorship, and better use of vantage points other than Paignton Green.

Sally Cope of Paignton Chamber of Trade said the airshow had brought the local community together and Torbay Business Forum chairman Steve Reynolds asked: “Can we afford not to do it?”

Cllr Jackie Thomas (Con, Kings Ash) said: “It’s an amazing event and I’m very proud that we have it, but we need to investigate more options for funding.”

Several speakers stressed the need for the show to be over at least two days to allow for a day to be lost to bad weather, as has happened more than once.

Cllr Patrick Joyce (Con, Wellswood) led calls for the show to expand to include a Friday night event as well as its traditional Saturday and Sunday flying displays.

However, there were concerns about the cost. In 2023 the council put £190,000 towards a total budget of around £300,000. 

“When we started the airshow it was meant to become cost-neutral,” said Cllr Chris Lewis (Con, Preston). “Quite clearly the model we are working on now doesn’t work. There are clearly things we need to do differently. The airshow itself was excellent, but it’s no secret that the marketing and sponsorship were not as good as they could have been.

“But it is difficult to put a price on the feelgood factor.”

Cllr Lewis said Torbay could learn lessons from the way the Teignmouth Airshow is organised and led by the local community, and Cllr Nicole Amil (Independent, Cockington with Chelston) said the previous Torbay airshow providers had missed important opportunities in marketing and sponsorship.

Cllr Billings summed up: “I think we could do an awful lot more to involve the local community to try to deliver an airshow without paying third party providers outside Torbay. There is a great opportunity there.

“Should we make more of the event, and have a music festival or a car show to make a wider event. Maybe it’s too much of an airshow about planes? We could do more to provide a really good event.”

The committee agreed to pass on a series of recommendations to the cabinet meeting next Tuesday for a final decision on the future of the airshow.

They include the council keeping ownership of the show while involving the community and voluntary sector, working to get more sponsorship and using the English Riviera BID company’s marketing expertise.

They agreed it should become ‘more than just an airshow’ and spread into the Friday evening.

The council, however, must keep a ’strong grip’ on the finances, and gradually reduce its financial contribution.

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