Horse show gets over vital hurdle; MP critical of event for 'toffs'.
AHORSE show aimed at attracting tens of thousands of visitors and their spending power to Northumberland this summer has been given the official green light.
The inaugural Burgham Horse Festival - which will be staged on land next to Burgham Park golf course near Felton - is intended to put the county firmly on the national equestrian map and deliver a significant boost to the tourism industry.
The high-profile show has now been confirmed after Northumbria Police, the Highways Agency and other partners agreed a safety plan for the movement of large horseboxes and other traffic between the main A1 road and the showground.
The event, to be held from Friday July 23 to Sunday 25, will feature top class show jumping and dressage, but will also include other family attractions such as a traders' village and food court, showcasing local producers.
If successful, the plan is to expand it into a full three-day event, which would involve the construction of a permanent cross-country course and fences.
The project was revealed amid controversy last month, when Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell branded it a "weekend out for toffs" and criticised the county council for spending pounds 80,000 on it from Government funds intended to tackle unemployment in deprived areas.
Mr Campbell has since publicly apologised if his remarks offended anyone, but is still questioning spending on the event at a time of major council budget savings and service cuts in his constituency. Liberal Democrat council leaders say the event has the potential to eventually attract 120,000 spectators and generate a visitor spend of pounds 424,000. They believe it will be self-financing.
Yesterday - after a Safety Advisory Group was convened to discuss the traffic implications of the event - it was confirmed that it will definitely go ahead in July.
The council said key agreements were now in place, including a traffic management plan that has been shaped by police, highways experts and other emergency services.
Council leader Jeff Reid said yesterday: "We are delighted to be able to give definite confirmation of this much-awaited event, which will increase tourism and boost the economy across Northumberland.
"There has been a great deal of commitment from partner agencies to make it a success, and we have had a lot of interest and positive feedback from residents and businesses keen to become involved.
"We look forward to working with them to provide a premier event for Northumberland which we hope, in the longer term, will raise our profile nationally and internationally."
Mr Campbell said: "I have never been particularly bothered about this event going ahead, but what I am concerned about is the use of pounds 80,000 in funding for it which is specifically intended for deprived areas. If Burgham Park is a deprived area I'll eat my hat.
"I want to know from the county council if it is going to make up this money for the areas it was originally intended for."
TRAFFIC PLANS MADE A ONE-WAY traffic system has been devised by police and highways experts in a bid to ensure that the Burgham event goes ahead safely.
The agreed plan means that southbound vehicles will not be allowed to turn right from the A1 into the showground, and will be encouraged to use the A697 if travelling from the north.
Alternatively, southbound traffic on the A1 can continue on to Morpeth and the junction with the A192, before travelling back north along the A1 in order to turn into the site to the left.
This will increase the amount of traffic going through Longhorsley, and organisers will soon be holding a drop-in session for village residents to explain the plans and talk about measures that will be taken to minimise disruption.