Croydon will be staging an evening’s cycling racing this summer after all, as council leader Tony Newman and his cabinet authorised the spending of an estimated six-figure sum for the town centre to host a stage of the Pearl Izumi Series on Tuesday, June 7.Croydon hosted the event last summer, paying the race promoters £148,000 of public money for the privilege of road closures, commuter disruption and the shutting off of the tram network for the afternoon and evening.
But at least Newman got to make a brief appearance on a little-watched ITV4 highlights package shown late at night.
According to a weekly newspaper based outside Croydon, Sir Bradley Wiggins was expected to race through Croydon’s streets in 2015; the closest the Olympic gold medallist came to Croydon was when a team car with his name painted on its side parked outside Tiger Tiger.
Indeed, none of the promised Olympic “stars” managed to show for the races in Croydon, which drew what any objective judgement would describe as disappointingly small crowds.
On Monday night, Newman is expected to preside over a full council meeting at the Town Hall at which the borough’s 2016-2017 budget will be debated, and cuts in grants from central government given as the reason for dozens of redundancies among council staff and the cut-backs in a range of other services.
The council is implementing nearly £30 million-worth of cuts, and Council Tax is to increase by 3.99 per cent in April.
But despite such straitened times, Newman appears to have managed to find a significant sum for a(nother) one-off cycling event. Perhaps this time round, the council’s leadership has persuaded the principal beneficiaries of the promotional event – business and property interests such as Westfield, Hammerson, Boxpark or the Whitgift Foundation – to foot the lion’s share of the staging costs, instead of enjoying yet another free ride at public expense.
The venues for the 2016 Pearl Izumi Tour were unveiled this afternoon, with Croydon staging the penultimate race in the 10-event men’s series. The parallel women’s series will also return to Croydon, which will be the only London race on the 2016 circuit.
The organisers today suggested that they will use a different circuit in Croydon this year; in 2015, the start-finish area was positioned on North End, and the riders raced for more than an hour around a tight one-kilometre circuit that took in Surrey Street, which required the market to lose much of a day’s trading, too.Croydon’s inclusion in 2016 represents a significant eleventh-hour U-turn by the organisers and the council. As Inside Croydon reported last month, the event organisers, Surrey-based Sweet Spot, had initially decided not to return to south London in 2016.
Newman has claimed, “The bike race put thousands of people on the streets of Croydon,” although his council failed to do the business-like thing and commission any independent cost-benefit analysis of the 2015 event, so we’ll just have to take his word for it, and whether there was any real benefit for spending £148,000 of Town Hall and City Hall funding.
Instead of proper analysis, Newman prefers to rely on his own bar-room recollections. “I went out for a drink that night in the Spread Eagle and the place was packed to the rafters,” Newman has claimed. He appears to overlook that the successful Fuller’s pub is regularly “packed to the rafters”, and that is only partially because it is next door to the Town Hall and therefore a convenient watering hole for Newman (council pay: £50,000-plus per year) and his council colleagues to spend their publicly funded allowances.“The cycle race was about putting the town on the map,” said Newman, somewhat pathetically when you consider that for £8.99 from WH Smith’s on North End, he could have equipped himself with an Ordnance Survey map 161, and save Council Tax-payers more than £100,000, money that might be better used on some potentially life-saving safety improvements to benefit Croydon’s resident cyclists for the other 364 days of the year.
“Staging this race just hands the Conservatives with another political stick to beat him with,” one Katharine Street figure said today. “At a time when he’s making cuts and raising Council Tax, Newman’s can be seen as squandering public money on a pet project.
“What makes it worse is that it almost appears he’s using a serious amount of public money just to spite Inside Croydon. If that’s the case, if questions weren’t being asked about Newman’s leadership before, they certainly will be now.”
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