Tour de France in Harrogate - special report

A 20km caravan of publicity vehicles like this one will be so long it will take up to 45 minutes to pass a single spot (S).
A 20km caravan of publicity vehicles like this one will be so long it will take up to 45 minutes to pass a single spot (S).

“There will be, without question, significant disruption to normal life. But this isn’t a normal event. It’s not a normal day, so we can’t expect life to carry on as normal.”

Nigel Avison, director of development services at Harrogate Borough Council, knows just what the opening stages of the Tour de France will bring to the district next July.

2 - The sprint finish alongside West Park Stray could be transformed with spectator stands and barriers, like the scene above. (S)

2 - The sprint finish alongside West Park Stray could be transformed with spectator stands and barriers, like the scene above. (S)

And, appealing to council members to set aside sums of £785,000 in readiness for the event, he has finally revealed the staggering scale of what is to come.

“It’s fair to say the costs are high,” he said. “But the scale of this event is huge.” The Harrogate district is to host the opening stages of the Tour de France - the Grand Depart - on July 5 and 6. Riders will race from Harewood to Masham and Ripon before a sprint finish in Harrogate, returning to Knaresborough, Starbeck and Harrogate again the following day. It now emerges that to accommodate them, the face of the district is to change. Street lights are to be pulled up, signs removed and traffic islands scrapped.

All league cricket matches are to be cancelled and the town’s car parks, council gyms and swimming pools are to close. Up to 300,000 people will descend on the district - from all over the world - and 120,000 will gather for the finish on the first day.

All-weather matting, strong enough to cope with “monster amounts” of rain, is to laid on Harrogate’s Stray to protect it from “thousands” of tour vehicles. Even trains are to be stopped for 45 minutes to allow a 20km caravan of advertising wagons to pass without being held up.

Scenes like this, with spectator stands lining the route, could be seen for the sprint finish along West Park Stray. (S)

Scenes like this, with spectator stands lining the route, could be seen for the sprint finish along West Park Stray. (S)

But no matter the money spent in preparing for the event, said Mr Avison, the economic benefits it will bring will “surpass” costs by some margin. “We would urge you not to penny pinch in this area,” he said, adding that much of the extra money set aside by the council would be spent on ‘spectator hubs’ for market towns like Knaresborough, Masham and Ripon.

“We all want this to be a district wide celebration, not just for Harrogate town.”

The cost of hosting the Grand Depart is expected to reach £21m - £10m of which will come from Government funding. The remaining £11m must come from local councils, and HBC is expected to set aside £558,000.

But the council has actually said it would like to spend more - £785,000, to make sure they capitalise on the opportunity. The extra money, £400,000 from this year’s underspends and £385,000 from next year’s, would be spent on, among other things, spectator hubs (£20,000), reinforcing the Stray (£20,000) and dressing up the town (£7,500).

“This is probably the largest event that Harrogate has ever staged,” said cabinet leader Anthony Alton, (Cons, Claro), agreeing the funds.

“I have to admit there’s a certain amount of crystal-ball gazing going on - nobody has done this before.

“But remember, this is a once in a lifetime event. It’s important that we get it right.”

l Race teams, logistics and media will take 10,000 hotel beds

l The 180-strong publicity caravan, 20km long, is so huge it will take 45 minutes to pass a single spot

l £1.5m guaranteed from hotel stays on the Friday and Saturday nights, with at least another £2m to be spent in the Harrogate economy

l All weather matting is to protect the Stray from hundreds of buses and stands - and “monster” amounts of rain

l Leisure centres like the Hydro will be closed with staff being reassigned to work on the Tour

l Sponsorship opportunities are to be sought to help pay for local events and spectator hubs

l The Great Yorkshire Showground, set to hold its own major event two days after, will host many of the event vehicles

l An estimated 100,000 - 120,000 people will gather on Harrogate’s Stray for the sprint finish on day one, with 300,000 people viewing it across the district

l All council car parks will be closed, to make room for the Tour vehicles

l The race will be broadcast to a TV audience of three billion, in 181 countries, on 121 different TV channels

l The HIC is to be transformed into a media centre for 2,000 journalists

l Street furniture to be removed from New Park Roundabout to the finish line opposite the Hotel du Vin

l The racers will be followed by nine helicopters

l Last hour will be broadcast live over Western Europe

l Flat pack spectator stands will be built along West Park Stray for the sprint finish

l Some private schools, including Ashville College, are to close early so that dormitories can be turned into guest rooms

l Guidance has been released about how to create pop-up campsites on empty fields

Council row

A heated row broke out between Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors at last Wednesday’s meeting over calls for the authority to lean on local businesses for financial support.

The plan, put forward by the Liberal Democrats and silenced by a Conservative vote, would see the council “explore opportunities to ask local businesses to make a contribution”.

The notion sparked a fierce debate, Mayor Michael Newby finally intervening to call for quiet as mutterings rose to a fever pitch.

“I hate to be a schoolma’am,” he said, banging his gavel on the chairman’s bench. “But if you must continue, please take it outside.”

The idea was first pitched by Liberal Democrat Coun Matthew Webber, (New Park), who said: “There’s lots of businesses that will benefit from hosting this event.

“We should be able to raise some money from sponsorship to offset the costs.”

But the proposal was branded “ridiculous” by Conservative members who said it was impractical. “There’s something unbelievable about the idea that because Harrogate is going to benefit, people should cough up,” said Coun Simon Theakston, (Cons, Harlow Moor).

The proposed amendment was silenced by a vote which saw 16 members in favour and 22 against, with four abstentions.