UCI cycling - businesses battle to stay positive in troubled week

Harrogate and District Chamber of Commerce, Steve Scarre.
Harrogate and District Chamber of Commerce, Steve Scarre.

When it comes to their value as a marketing exercise for Yorkshire, in general, and Harrogate, in particular, this nine-day cycling event watched by an estimated 250 million TV viewers could undoubtedly be calculated in the millions of pounds.

The problem is, Harrogate residents and businesses expected more.

At just past the half-way point during the biggest event to be hosted in Harrogate in the town’s history, some people are saying the UCI bonanza in terms of visitor numbers and an immediate economic boost is just not happening. In general, the tone is positive, especially when the two biggest days of the whole competition are yet to take place.

But worries remain. And the wet weather has not helped.

This weekend will not only see the likes of local favourite Lizzie Deignan racing through her home streets in a bid to be crowned UCI world champion on Saturday but also Doncaster’s Ben Swift seeking to do the same on Sunday.

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The president of Harrogate and District Chamber of Commerce, Steve Scarre, began taking the temperature of businesses and shops in the town centre before the UCI championships were launched on Saturday and has continued to monitor the situation closely.

He says the town centre has been like a “ghost town” at times but he remains positive the event will bring some benefit to Harrogate.

He said: “I am purposely walking around town each day to get a feel for what is happening. I spent all day Friday, over eight hours, talking to mainly independent businesses about how they were feeling prior to the start.

“It’s early days yet but I know that certain traders are suffering with the centre of town looking like a ghost town last weekend and at the start of this week.

“But from West Park down to the Yorkshire Hotel was really busy over the weekend and I feel, but don’t know, that businesses will have done well some, in particular, the food and hospitality trades.

“I hope that we are not heading for a complete disaster with regard toindependent businesses in the main but I also include the chains.

“It is easy to criticise and I know some people have put an enormous amount of work into this event but I hope things improve over the next few days.

“This weekend should attract an enormous number of visitors to Harrogate and it is a pity that the Fan Zone does not really have any local businesses in it.”

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In Mr Scarre’s view, if it was to be shown there was no concrete benefit for Harrogate traders, there should be some form of “compensation.”

He said: “I remain positive that UCI will benefit Harrogate as a whole in the longer term, but there will be some traders that will/are suffering as a result of it and we need to acknowledge that, in my view, and find a way to compensate them.”

As for the crowds who have turned up to watch the UCI world championships, they seem to be loving it, despite the torrential rain at times.

Harrogate resident Paul Halliday, 47, was by the race barriers in a poncho with son Macauley, six, and brother Mark and his wife, Nicole.

The chartered surveyor, whose group had a stuffed sheep mascot held up high with them, said: “It’s amazing - for the town and Yorkshire.”

Fellow Harrogate resident Edwina Barwick, 69, said “I think it’s brilliant but there’s an awful lot of negativity with the residents, I’m afraid, because of the road closures.”

Chris and Annette Jones made the trip from Birmingham and are due to stay for the full week.

Mr Jones, who along with his wife wore the attire of the Birmingham Midland Cycling club, said: “We’re here for the week, for everything.”

But one independent trader sent the Harrogate Advertiser a list of five businesses in the town centre who are having a “shocker” of a week - and that’s on top of several other individual complaints.

A “Harrogate Against UCI” page was even launched on Facebook this week with 140 followers and 124 likes so far.

But Yorkshire’s main tourist body which has been instrumental in bringing the UCIs to Harrogate says it has been impressed by the support Harrogate has shown.

Welcome to Yorkshire’s commercial director Peter Dodd said: “I can’t thank the crowds and communities enough for still coming out in their droves.

“Everyone’s pulled together including the emergency services, the councils, highways agencies, and of course, our Yorkshire Team volunteers who’ve all worked their socks off.”

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