MP’s blast as chaos causes hundreds to miss their flights

MP Michael Connarty
MP Michael Connarty
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FOR more than half a century the Royal Highland Show has been a good neighbour to Edinburgh Airport.

After a wet weekend caused traffic chaos, however, calls have been made to separate the “country show” from the international transport hub.

The call comes from a Lothians MP after a two-hour tailback on Sunday caused hundreds of passengers to miss flights.

Travellers were forced to climb over barriers and run to the airport with their luggage in a desperate attempt to make their flights, due to a bottleneck at the airport’s main entrance.

Several flights were delayed as crew members, as well as passengers, were forced to sit on the A8 after airport bosses offered show-goers the use of their car park following the loss of 6000 parking spaces to flooding at Ingliston.

As a result, Linlithgow MP Michael Connarty, who was flying out to Frankfurt on parliamentary business, spent almost two hours in traffic for a trip that would usually take him just 20 minutes.

He said: “It really is incredible that traffic to a once-a-year country show can be given precedence over access to a supposed international airport.

“There is clearly something wrong with the placing of a major rural show in fields beside the airport.

“Surely it must be a concern for Scotland that a major airport can grind to a halt when it rains heavily.

“It is also beyond credibility that no arrangements were in place to give any priority to passengers trying to reach flights.”

Brian McGonigal, from Granton, who was picking up a friend, said: “I’ve never seen traffic like it, dozens of people were jumping out of buses and taxis to run from the A8 to the airport.”

Jill Redden, from Cameron Toll, who was on a bus attempting to get to the Highland Show, said: “One woman with three young children was scrambling over the busy A8 weighed down with luggage.

“I am totally ashamed of Edinburgh after witnessing it. It was like something you’d expect to see in a third world country.”

Both the council and Lothian and Borders Police have been quick to state that their roles in the affair were purely ones of traffic management and that any decision to offer show-goers the use of the airport’s car parks lay with airport and show bosses.

The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland backed its decision.

Chief executive Stephen Hutt said: “The Royal Highland Centre contributes around £250 million to the Scottish economy each year, with the show accounting for £70m of that overall figure. Surely Mr Connarty should be encouraging both organisations — the society and Edinburgh Airport — to find ways of working together.

“I am pleased that Edinburgh Airport and the society understand that there are greater benefits to be had in finding a solution to a traffic problem caused by extreme weather conditions, rather than making unhelpful comments which seek to undermine a very successful event.”

A spokesman for Edinburgh Airport said: “The unprecedented rainfall was beyond anyone’s control and we were glad to assist where we could to avoid a bad situation becoming far worse. We have spoken today with the Highland Show, asking for an immediate debrief with it, the council and Lothian and Borders Police so that we can examine what happened at the weekend and how it can be better managed in the future.”

Strong pedigree

The Royal Highland & Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) held the first show in 1822 in Edinburgh on a site now occupied by the Scottish Parliament.

This year’s was the 172nd show but it has only been held permanently at Ingliston since 1960.

The showground area extends to 100 acres and there is a further 150 acres for parking up to 25,000 vehicles.

Around 4000 head of cattle, horses, goats and sheep compete for coveted Royal Highland rosettes and almost £1 million in prize money and trophies.

The Highland Hall is the country’s largest temporary cattle shed. It houses around 1000 beef and dairy cattle.

The countryside area covers seven acres, including a one-acre loch.

The show also has 1000 exhibitors of farm machinery, equipment and services. Almost £100 million is either spent or pledged during the show. This April, it was named the best event in Scotland by the National Outdoor Event Association and the last two attendances have broken the 180,000 mark, with a record in 2010 of 187,644 visitors.