Birdman organisers plan for 2016 despite budget concern

DM154901a.jpg Worthing Birdman Competition (Sunday). Ron Freeman. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-150816-225805008
DM154901a.jpg Worthing Birdman Competition (Sunday). Ron Freeman. Photo by Derek Martin SUS-150816-225805008

WORTHING Birdman organisers are ploughing ahead with plans for next year’s competition despite previous doubts over the financial viability of the event.

Worthing Town Centre Initiative had called on Worthing Borough Council for support after board members were split on the running of future events because of spiralling costs.

The council declined to offer funds but a potential sponsor has been found to offset part of the £64,000 budget for next year’s spectacle.

A final decision on Birdman 2016 will be taken in February, when quotes for scaffolding and the number of competitors is known.

Town centre manager Sharon Clarke said: “There is still the issue with the scaffolding because we can’t spend a penny more than what we have in the budget.

“If it goes above £12,500 we just can’t afford to do it. We would have to lose the big screens on the beach and we don’t think it would work without those.”

Should the event go ahead, serious flyers aiming to win the £10,000 prize will have to travel 150 metres – 50 metres more than the traditional distance.

Mrs Clarke said improvements in craft technology, as well as good weather, had contributed to four flights over 100 metres in two years. The competition, therefore, needed a refresh.

But veteran Birdman Ron Freeman – the first to fly 100 metres – has criticised the move.

The world champion hang glider, who wowed crowds with a freak 159 metre flight in 2014, said: “I am a bit saddened if they are going to increase it to 150 metres because it’s totally unrealistic.

“It’s unfair on the other competitors who have never been there before. Only the likes of me and Tony (Hughes, last year’s champion) have got any chance to get near that because of our crafts and experience.”

Mr Freeman said the event was a ‘win-win’ for the town and said he was surprised not to see more Birdman events organised after his 2014 efforts attracted international publicity.

But Worthing’s event came under scrutiny after businesses which fund the event reported little improvement in trade over the weekend of the event.

Just five per cent of businesses which are part of the TCI – all located on or next to the seafront – reported boosted trade during Birdman weekend, leaving many questioning whether the event makes best use of its funds.

A third of the TCI’s budget goes on the event.