TWO boat shows set to be held in Southampton tomorrow morning have been cancelled the night before they were meant to welcome visitors.

Civic chiefs at Southampton City Council made the call to cancel both the Southampton International Boat Show and the Ocean Village Boat Show late this evening.

The council said the decision was taken following a "concerning" rise in coronavirus cases across the country and "after detailed analysis of the public health risks". 

Organisers have described the move as  "devastating".

But critics said the council has let people down at the "eleventh hour".

In a statement Debbie Chase, director of public health at the city council, said: "Due to the increased spread of COVID-19 nationally, and the need for stronger control measures to reduce transmission both in Southampton and across the country, we unfortunately cannot allow the Ocean Village Boat Show 2020 and Boats 2020 presented by Southampton International Boat Show Limited to take place this month. We have therefore issued a Direction under Regulation 5(1) of the Health Protection Regulations 2020 prohibiting these events from taking place."

She added: "In Southampton and the South East, we have seen a lower rate of COVID-19 transmissions. However, the national picture shows a concerning rise in cases, and with these events set to attract around 20,000 people from different parts of the UK over a 10-day period, it’s important we act now to reduce the risk of infection."

She said the council was "very sorry" to disappoint event organisers and everyone planning to attend the events.

Ms Chase added: "The decision, while regrettable, has been made after detailed analysis of the public health risks and discussions with our colleagues and partner agencies within the city.

"Anyone who was planning to make the journey to one of the boat shows in Southampton should not now make that journey. Officers from Southampton City Council and Hampshire Constabulary will be visible in the area to engage with the public and help explain the Direction that has been issued.”

Tim Mayer, sales and marketing director at MDL which is responsible for the show in Ocean Village, said: "This is very disappointing for the industry. 

"We understand that the council is worried about an influx of visitors, however, the company has strived to develop a show that offers visitors an appointment-only, controlled and safe show. 

"This last minute decision is devastating."

Cllr Satvir Kaur, cabinet member for homes and culture, said the decision was taken with "a heavy heart".

"However, it would simply be irresponsible to ignore expert advice of our health professionals at this time," she added.

But opposition leader Cllr Dan Fitzhenry described it as a "blow for the city".

"Whilst I understand the natural concern for public health, on the information I have been shared I believe that a more balanced decision could have been made," he added.

Southampton Itchen MP Royston Smith added: "The organisers, exhibitors, bars, restaurants, hotels have all been let down again at the eleventh hour. "