IT was once a beacon event for the city that brought in thousands of people.

Crowds would flock to Southampton Common for the city’s Balloon and Flower Festival.

So the decision to pull the plug on it 10 years ago was met with dismay and disappointment.

This week the Daily Echo revealed that despite a new 3,000-signature petition council bosses had struck out the idea of bringing the event back because of concerns about interference with planes.

Decision makers say it is not a question of money or apathy but a matter of aviation safety with increasing numbers of flights at Southampton Airport.

However, the Daily Echo can now reveal that there could be fresh hope for campaigners with key figures prepared to look at the issue again.

In its heyday the event on Southampton Common attracted around 150,000 people but by the time the curtain came down in 2005 numbers had dropped to 75,000.

However, other festivals now appear to be thriving, such as the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, in its 37th year and Europe’s largest ballooning event.

The four-day festival attracts more than 100 hot air balloons and half a million people, with organisers claiming it pumps £13m into the local economy every year.

Assistant mayor for resources and culture at Bristol City Council, Simon Cook, said it had got bigger year on year and was a massive event in the city calendar.

“Bristol International Balloon Fiesta [pictured below] draws people from around the world, helping to raise Bristol’s profile on the world stage,” he said.

Daily Echo:

This is not the first time residents have raised the issue of bringing back our festival – a petition in 2009 gained 11,000 signatures.

Southampton City Council had axed the festival blaming the £70,000 cost but also difficulties due to the number of flights from Southampton Airport.

And it is this that council bosses say remains and has developed into a major stumbling block to ambitions to bring it back with the increasing numbers of flights.

Southampton Itchen MP John Denham met airport bosses in 2009 during the last campaign and said he understood then that the only way would be to shut down the airport at these times.

He said airport bosses had said wherever you launched balloons in the city because of the unpredictability of the wind there was a danger of it blowing them into the airport approach route.

“There has been suggestion that it was money [motivated] – primarily it’s a logistics problem,” he said.

Daily Echo: Itchen MP John Denham

Southampton Itchen MP John Denham

Steve Richards, chairman of the British Association of Ball-oon Operators, said such large scale events remained popular but Southampton did have a number of “unique issues” to deal with that would not be found in other parts of the country, such as its position on the coast.

“The air traffic problems associated with holding the event so close to an airport that is expanding the level of aircraft movements cannot be ignored, although there is no doubt that a protocol for working with balloons could be established,” he said.

“The probable question is whether a person or body could be found to take on the issues that would be faced.”

A spokeswoman for Southampton Airport confirmed it had worked with potential organisers in the past to try and find locations and times where the festival could go ahead safely without success.

She said: “Southampton Common falls within South-ampton Airport’s controlled airspace and any balloon activity in the area could come into conflict with aircraft that regularly utilise the airspace above Southampton.

“This would be unacceptable for safety reasons. As a commercial airport with over 1.8m passengers per year it is not possible to change schedules to allow a balloon festival to go ahead in the previous location.”

But she did add that it was always happy to look at the issue again to try and find a new site.

And equally, Satvir Kaur, Cabinet member for communities, pictured below, said the council would be prepared to speak to the airport about the festival again to try to find a solution and would back anyone keen to pursue the project.

Daily Echo: Satvir Kaur

“I can understand why it’s frustrating for residents but I value what the airport brings to the city and I can understand why it wants to expand,” she said.