JEREMY CLACKSON, our transport correspondent, with another exclusive which exposes poor planning and management from our council
Croydon’s Council Tax-payers have been taken for another ride, this time on the back of a racing bicycle.
The “international” cycle race staged in the town centre last June won’t be returning to the streets of Croydon in 2016. Nor for the foreseeable future.
A senior Katharine Street source has confirmed to Inside Croydon that the 2016 Pearl Izumi race series will not be staging a race in Croydon. The formal announcement by the series organisers is expected next month.
Croydon Council, with some financial contribution from City Hall, paid £148,000 of public money to the event organisers, Sweet Spot, last year to bring the cycle race to the town centre.
At least council leader Tony Newman got himself on to the telly thanks to the event, even if that was a late night appearance on little-watched ITV4 – meaning that Newman will have been seen by barely one-fifth of those who watched Winston McKenzie on Celebrity Big Brother last week. And the TV company was paying Winston.
The town centre cycle race is exactly the sort of event which Croydon Council should be bringing to the borough more often. But our council’s facility for poor delivery on behalf of residents, and at greater cost than is really necessary, was well demonstrated in this case.
The Croydon race was one of two stages to take place in London – the other was at Canary Wharf the following evening – but our council forgot to commission any independent cost-benefit analysis of the event. Instead, they relied entirely on the somewhat partial report from the race organisers. Even that took a somewhat reluctant three months to appear before the scrutiny committee.
As the venue hosts, the local authorities were providing a number of facilities for the organisers, such as the road closures and policing. It is common for organisers staging events on the public highway to pay a facility fee to the local authority, rather than the other way round. And there was no contribution towards the council’s costs from the people the event was intended to help to promote – the property owners, businesses and speculators, such as Westfield, the Whitgift Foundation or Boxpark, who yet again enjoyed a free ride at public expense.
And our naive council officials were taken for a ride in another way, too, by failing to agree a longer term arrangement with the race series. It seems that whoever it was in Fisher’s Folly who agreed to hand over the handsome six-figure sum to the organisers did not get a contract with a three- or four-year term built into it.
Because if the aim of the venture was to promote the town and the £1 billion regeneration programme being undertaken by Hammersfield and demonstrate that Croydon is “a place to do business”, then some degree of continuity will have been necessary, bringing the event, and the TV cameras, back to North End at least this year and next to plant the seed of recognition in the minds of the public at large.
When it was staged, there was some disruption to the town centre – they even tarmac’d over parts of the tram network, so the cyclists got a smoother ride. But the racing drew few spectators. It had been poorly publicised by the council. The Olympic riders promised by the organisers, in the main, failed to appear; the closest Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins got to Croydon was when a team car with his name on it was parked on the High Street.
And the tight race route was so poorly marshaled, and the Croydon public so ill-disciplined in the etiquette of major events , that one impatient mother and her child broke on to the course and nearly wiped out a Paralympic champion.
Specialist magazine Cycling Weekly reported that its staff witnessed a couple of incidents where members of the public were angry at the (relatively brief) inconvenience of not being able to cross roads. One man, they reported, “was angrily explaining to a marshal that he had to walk a hundred metres down the road to use the crossing point on his way to the railway station. Another woman was visibly upset that her bus was not running along its usual route due to the event”.
In its usual, hackneyed and clichéd style, Croydon Council argued that staging the races would “put Croydon on the map” (it’s already there, guys, if only you’d look…). In fact, all the event did was take a chunk out of local funds to line the pockets of some sports management company, and paid for the drinks of the sponsors’ guests. But they all had a jolly time at the post-race reception in that paragon of the Croydon night-time economy… Tiger Tiger.
There was a bitter irony that this event came from a self-proclaimed “clean and green” Labour-controlled local council which has been obliterating cycle lanes in the borough and has failed to deliver a car-free Quietway in the north of the borough.
“I’m sure it was all very good and great fun for one evening,” a Croydon-based member of the London Cycling Campaign told Inside Croydon. “But it is not going to make any difference to my daily commute on the 364 other days of the year, it’s not going to make my ride to work any safer, it’s not going to bring back the cycle lanes along South End that they have removed.”
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