Viewpoints - why legacy of UCI cycling is still dividing Harrogate 12 months later

What did the UCI World Road Cycling Championships actually mean to Harrogate and the district? The Harrogate Advertiser talked to a variety of opinion in Harrogate and asked what the controversial event's legacy has been.

Friday, 25th September 2020, 11:42 am
Updated Friday, 25th September 2020, 11:50 am
Flashback to UCI World Championships 2019 in Harrogate as crowds on Parliament Street near Bettys watch the Junior Men Time trial. (Picture Bruce Rollinson)

What did the UCI World Road Cycling Championships actually mean to Harrogate and the district? Twelve months on, the Harrogate Advertiser talked to a variety of opinion in Harrogate and asked what the controversial event's legacy has been.

The damaged Stray may have started to recover from its muddy role as a fan park for nine long days in the rain in September 2019 but the rumblings and arguments over whether it was all worthwhile have lingered - and fierce divisions still remain, especially among Harrogate businesses hit by a deserted town centre.

Harrogate Borough Council leader Coun Richard Cooper:

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“As a vehicle to boost the awareness of the Harrogate district on the domestic and international stage as a tourist destination I think the event was a huge success with the district appearing on tens of millions of television sets across the globe.

“As an event which enthused and brought together the local community I do not think it was as successful for a variety of reasons - the impact of road closures, extreme weather conditions meaning lower spectator levels than hoped for and, of course, the damage to the Stray.

“We had nine days of solid rain: the worst period of rainfall since the 1970s. We were unlucky. I regret that deeply but it was not something I could change.

“But, overall, I think it was worth it and if you look at the tourism picture due to Covid-19 staycationing is growing rapidly. People are looking for places in the UK to holiday as they cannot be sure of the position abroad.

“They are going to go to places they have heard of and seen on the TV screens and we are hearing reports of a surge in the number of visitors to the area once the coronavirus lockdown was eased.”

Ali Standen, owner of Acorn Lodge and vice chair of Accommodation Harrogate:

“I don’t think holding the UCIs in Harrogate was worth it. We would normally have been busy during that period with visitors coming for other reasons.

“Luckily we had fans of the cycling staying, but we felt it stopped other visitors who would normally have come.

“Many of the visitors chose to stay just out of town in camper vans and did not come into town to spend in the restaurants and bars. They could have been encouraged more.

“I haven’t seen an increase in people coming specifically for cycling. Most of our guests had not heard of it.

“But I’d like to think we could attract more events like this as we felt that the atmosphere was great whilst it was on. Harrogate is usually a very hospitable town and should welcome such events to keep us on the map.

“We can learn from the UCI and use more of the indoor facilities, perhaps, for the fans to use in case of bad weather and avoid the catastrophe of the Stray.”

Tracy Morgan, marketing manager for Visit Harrogate:

“World sporting events such as the UCI offer a profile and exposure that money can’t buy. The thousands upon thousands of visitors who left the Harrogate district with positive memories, recalling stories of their time spent here to their friends and family back home are our new ambassadors.

“It is has been hard to measure the benefits of Harrogate hosting the event last year given the challenges we are facing this year but the popularity of our website for green spaces, walks and town visits and food & drink during the summer, shows how Harrogate’s strengths are serving it well at this turbulent time.

“Word of mouth is one of the most effective types of marketing there is and it can only be generated through first-hand experience.

“We look forward to the future and the opportunity to hold any events that allow the Harrogate district to shine and fly the flag for Yorkshire.”

Robert Ogden, co-founder of Independent Harrogate:

“While the UCI championships was an exciting occasion and one that most Harrogate businesses entered into with great enthusiasm, the decision to hold all the race finishes in the town centre was ill-conceived and put too much burden on the businesses that need access and footfall to survive.

“Most regular customers stayed away and the vast majority of businesses lost significant sums of money during the month that Harrogate was closed off.

“Despite some claims, there was no ‘silent majority’ of businesses that did well - these were very few and far between in our experience of canvassing Harrogate.

“The promoters could have put more serious effort into promoting the existing retail and hospitality offer in Harrogate town centre, encouraging visitors to explore the whole town, not just the fan park.

“Covid has changed a lot of things. One has to hope that the name recognition from cycling events might push Harrogate forward in the queue as a great place to live and work.

“Future events of all types should certainly be considered, but only if Harrogate Borough Council and other organisations start to consult with the rate-paying businesses.”

Simon Cotton, managing director of HRH Group (Fat Badger, The White Hart Hotel, Yorkshire Hotel, Scran Restaurant):

“I was a supporter of bringing the World Cycling Championships to Harrogate, I was delighted whilst they were on and I am still delighted they came and gave Harrogate the opportunity to ‘welcome the world’.

“Little did we know what issues the world would face in 2020 and how much, amongst all things, this would affect the tourism industry, so to have had the worldwide exposure we had last year, means even more now than we probably realised at the time.

“It showed how Harrogate has the ability to host international world class events successfully.

“While it is always difficult to guarantee where business has specifically been generated from, Harrogate has without doubt benefited.

“Demand this year, specifically from the leisure market has increased, mainly from the staycation sector.

“We also have market statistics that show how Harrogate has outperformed many other destinations.

“When you look at market statistics as to occupancies in hotels, guest houses, B&B’s, campsites and more, you’ll see that Harrogate has once again bounced back since reopening on July 4, far quicker than most towns and cities

“Harrogate needs to continue to be at the forefront. Major events can bring in direct economic impact and create a platform for advertising a message to future visitors.”

Sandra Doherty, chief executive of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce:

“Hindsight is always a wonderful thing. As said previously, the weather made this event more of a disaster than perhaps it would have been in good weather.

“The damage to the Stray would have been minimal, but loss of trade in the town in certain sectors would have remained the same. It could have been a fantastic event and memories would have been very different had it been lovely weather.

“Cycling events appeal to a narrow segment of the population and the majority of the world TV coverage tended to be on pay to view or subscription channels.

“I also think it was a weekend too long, and this should have been addressed in advance. Studying the result from other host towns might also have given us an insight as to how commercial successfully it is to host the event. Had that happened then expectations would not have been so high. Looking for lasting success would have necessitated a profitable event giving the organisers a cash sum to develop a legacy project for Harrogate which was not the case.

“Events with a broader market, or perhaps more in line with our Harrogate USP, would be more popular and be welcome by more people.

“Those that necessitate closing roads round the town centre are, perhaps, best avoided.”

Sara Ferguson, acting chair of Harrogate Business Improvement District (BID):

“The UCI world cycling championships promised so much but, in the end, delivered benefits to only a limited number of businesses.

“The fact that much of the town centre was closed to traffic for two weeks stopped many people from coming in to shop. It did thrust Harrogate into the global spotlight which can only be a good thing.

“Once Covid is behind us I hope any lasting legacy will see people coming to the town and the district as a direct result of seeing what a fabulous area we live in. But what we need is a calendar of events - small, medium and large - to draw people to the town. We also need Harrogate Convention Centre back playing its part.”

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