No change for Festival of Festival

No change for Festival of Festival

10 January 2018

AMBITIOUS plans to turn Newcastle’s Festival of Flight into a two-day event look set to be aborted.

Councillors have rejected a proposal to increase the budget for the flagship tourism event to £140,000, agreeing instead to allocate £122,000.

The move was agreed at Monday night’s meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council when politicians voted to allocate more funds to community-led festivals across the district. Their decision, which was not unanimous, was agreed by 18 votes to 15.

The Festival of Flight regularly attracts over 100,000 visitors to the resort and there had been plans to spend more money on it to allow it to be expanded to two days for the first time this summer, with increased funding also earmarked for the Footsteps in the Forest, Wake the Giant and City of Merchants festival events based in the southern end of the council area.

However, councillors agreed the proposed budget increases for these key events would be reduced by 12 per cent.

During Monday’s meeting, concern was expressed about growing council-led festivals at the expense of community-led festivals.

Council officials, who have confirmed the reduced festival budget will have no impact on plans to bring the Ulster Fleadh back to Castlewellan this year, or the prestigious All-Ireland Pipe Band Championships to Newcastle, say they need to study the full impact of Monday night’s decision.

They have confirmed they will have to review their major festival proposals to see what can be done. While they remain keen for the Festival of Flight to take place over two days, they have admitted delivering this won’t be easy.

Addressing councillors, Marie Ward, the local authority’s Director of Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism, said the reduced budget will mean there will be no change to the format of the district’s major festivals from last year.

“The festivals were very successful last year and while we will look to do some enhancement they will run as they did last summer,” she added.

Councillor Pete Byrne, who backed additional money being allocated to community-led festivals, said he had an issue with the exponential growth of council-led festivals compared to those organised by communities.

“This council does not fully own the right to run tourism events across the area and we have to work in tandem with community-run festivals as well which have run very successfully over the past number of years,” he said, expressing concern that year-on-year funding for community festivals was being cut.

Councillor Byrne said it was “completely unfair” to spend more money on council festivals and reduce funding to community-led events. He said he was keen to see equal council support for all festivals, arguing that it appeared the current focus was on council festivals alone.

Councillor Willie Clarke, whose proposal not to reduce proposed budget increases for major festivals was defeated, argued that allocating more money would have safeguarded the local authority’s major festivals and also allow those in the voluntary sector to grow their festivals.

“If we want to improve our high profile tourism festivals to draw in more local, national and international visitors then we have to spend money on them. If the standard of our major festivals s, people might not come back. I was keen to see the Festival of Flight extended to two days as it would have provided a number of benefits,” he said.

“I am in no way denigrating community-led festivals and those who organise them. They do a great job and play an important role. I was keen to see the budget for the main festivals increase and for an additional £30,000 allocated to these smaller events.”

Councillor Clarke said while he welcomed assurances that council officials will investigate if a two-day festival in Newcastle is still possible, he described himself as a “realist” and recognised it will be impossible given the budget reduction.

He added: “Tourism is our number one priority and it is important we continue to invest in this crucial sector which produces a significant economic return for our district.”