Worthing Birdman future in question

Tony Hughes takes flight on his final jump. Picture by Eddie Mitchell SUS-150816-194240001
Tony Hughes takes flight on his final jump. Picture by Eddie Mitchell SUS-150816-194240001
  • Event’s future in balance
  • Business boost questioned
  • Council urged to step in

WORTHING BIRDMAN organisers are split over whether they should continue supporting the event.

The seafront spectacle has been run by the Town Centre Initiative since 2008 but soaring costs now see it eat up a third of its annual budget.

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.

Worthing Borough Council has been contacted to explore the potential for the authority contributing to the running costs.

Town centre manager Sharon Clarke said: “About 50 per cent want to continue funding it but 50 per cent think it is too much money. It’s quite a difficult decision.

“A lot of them are positive about it but it is costing a third of our budget, now.”

The TCI consists of a group of businesses, which each contribute an annual fee towards improvements in the town centre.

Previous projects have included seafront planting, running the Wednesday market and running events and attractions such as the urban beach, in South Street square and Countdown to Christmas.

It took over the running of Birdman in 2008, hoping the event would draw more people to the town and, in turn, attract shoppers.

But while the event sees thousands flock to the beach, most businesses have not seen an increase in trade as hoped.

Mrs Clarke said: “It is a tourism event, not a business event and we don’t have a tourism budget.

“We are having to review it as we are spending businesses’ money and we are completely split as to whether we should be investing time, effort and money into it or going back to our basics.

“We don’t want it to leave Worthing and it’s great for the town. It gets us national press and it’s great for promoting Worthing as a place to visit but we don’t get any funding from the tourism side.”

Mrs Clarke insisted the organisation wanted the event to remain in the town but hoped to secure financial support to help with running costs.

Worthing Borough Council leader Dan Humphreys confirmed he was aware of the contact but said it was too early to commit either way.

The costs of Birdman have spiralled in recent years, with next year’s event estimated to cost £72,000. The TCI’s total budget is £200,000.

Three years ago, the total cost was £56,000, with increased costs for scaffolding making up a large proportion of the increase.

New regulations now require detailed designs to be drawn up and approved – a hurdle which nearly saw this year’s event cancelled after a last-minute complaint to the Health and Safety Executive.

The £10,000 jackpot prize, paid out for two years in a row, is also no longer insured, as the premiums are more costly on a yearly basis.

This means the prize must be ring-fenced each year, in case it is won.

Worthing Pier county councillor Michael Cloake said he had opened talks with Worthing Borough Council.

He said: “It is increasingly apparent that with the finite resources at Worthing TCI there are concerns over the future viability of the Birdman event in Worthing despite its phenomenal success at drawing visitors to the town.

“I have spoken with the borough’s chief executive and cabinet member for resources about finding a way of working in partnership that allows us to continue to put on this fantastic globally-recognised event.

“I will continue these discussions and hope to get support from the county council and other organisations.”