More than just pedal power behind the Tour de France

An engineer from Northern Powergrid outside a substation in Harrogate. Picture: Northern Powergrid.
An engineer from Northern Powergrid outside a substation in Harrogate. Picture: Northern Powergrid.

The Tour de France is here in a month’s time, and with hotels booked to capacity, pop-up campsites set to fill much of the empty space, and many residents expecting to host visitors of their own, how will the water and electricity systems cope with around 300,000 tourists in the Harrogate district alone? James Metcalf reports.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to line the route of the Tour de France on July 5 and 6 as it passes through the Harrogate district.

The helicopter used by Northern Powergrid that will be on standby during the weekend of the Tour de France. Credit: Northern Powergrid.

The helicopter used by Northern Powergrid that will be on standby during the weekend of the Tour de France. Credit: Northern Powergrid.

Almost every hotel room was already booked four months ago and many fields, sports clubs, and even schools are getting ready to do their fair share and host those arriving to watch the largest cycling event in the world.

Though accommodation is essential, visitors will also require the use of electricity and running water, especially if the weather does not disappoint, and the utility providers are also making many preparations for the great influx of people across the county.

Yorkshire Water, which operates 60 treatment works, is ensuring these are all available for use and that maintenance is contained over the weekend, as well as organising logistical arrangements to ensure technicians can get where they need to be.

Neil Dewis, who has been head of water operations for 12 years, told the Harrogate Advertiser he is expecting to see a 10 per cent increase in demand for water in certain areas, on top of the 200million litres usually required during the school holidays.

He said: “If there are two million people coming to the region, and that is the estimate we are working from, and they all drink the normal amount and use the same amount in the shower that is 200m litres more over that period.

“In a normal summer with hot weather and the school kids at home that is what we see demand go up by, so we are planning for that with another ten per cent in certain areas of high demand.

“Up in the Dales, for example, there is going to be a lot more people visiting there than normally. What we are doing, therefore, is making sure that our network is in good working condition.

“The hotels will be full and we expect domestic properties to fill, so we are going to see a lot more people in the area, but the system was designed to meet industrial demand in the 1800s and 1900s so we have a good capacity there to meet the demand.

“The system can deal with it, but it is also more limited because people have to wait their turn for the shower, for example. We just expect to see demand running for longer and remaining quite high throughout the day.”

The reservoir stocks supplying the company are currently at 94 per cent, and Yorkshire Water has the ability to move both drinking water and treatment water around a network called the grid to where it is needed.

However, should access to water be lost, the entire system will be monitored from Bradford and teams, strategically placed along the riders’ course, will be directed to where they are needed.

Mr Dewis said: “We are looking at how we are going to get our people around to make sure our networks have people where they need them. We have set up six teams where there is going to be a requirement of maintenance and our technicians will be placed along the race route.

“We have not got any concerns in Harrogate. We will be setting one of our strategic sectors at Harlow Hill to make sure we have got water, not necessarily just for Harrogate but also the outlying areas, if there is need for it.

“Regionally I am not concerned. We are going to have more than enough water to meet the demand and we are just making sure that the patches where we are expecting lots of people we have got a plan and a contingency plan as well.

“We will be aware of anything before the customer is, but if people experience low pressure or no water they can call our centre which will be staffed during the weekend and we will send our technicians around where they are needed.

“We are trying to have business as usual while being aware that there will be a lot more people using our services.”

These logistical plans have featured as much in the strategies of Northern Powergrid, where an internal group was formed to directly consult with Tour de France 2014 and put preparatory measures in place to maintain power and safety around the district.

With a helicopter on standby for the weekend and two inspections already carried out at substations, power lines, and poles and another still to come, the electricity company has also doubled its staff over the Tour weekend next month.

Repairs manager Ian Stewart hopes this will reassure Harrogate residents, who have experienced several power cuts in the past year, the last of which forced the Cedar Court Hotel to move all of its guests to other premises after an outage lasting more than six hours.

Mr Stewart said: “There have been problems in the last 18 months around Harrogate, but where there is an event those hotels are being closely considered with generation back up in the vicinity should we need it.

“The reality of it is that we don’t expect more people coming in to create demand for more power. It is quite the opposite during well-attended big events because it creates a net loss as those people aren’t putting the kettle on at home at half time, for example.

“We are not anticipating huge demands being put onto our system as a consequence of the race, we are just hoping for a happy, great weekend.”

Aside from the hotels, Northern Powergrid is also focusing on the pop-up campsites located near electrical assets. A fly-over inspection of the anticipated sites is set to take place on Thursday, July 3, just before the riders arrive in Harrogate, to deter people from climbing up poles for a better view, for example.

Mr Stewart said: “We want to make sure those campsites are remaining safe and if they are not we are going to land and have a word with them.”

If people staying in these camps lose power, however, it will be up to the landowner to organise a replacement generator, as these sites will not be connected to Northern Powergrid’s system.

“When people are in a field and a generator fails on a campsite we won’t be able to help with that because it is the owner’s responsibility and not attached to our system,” Mr Stewart said.

“There is not an infinite amount of generators out there, we don’t own our own and have to buy them and the campsites are grabbing them. We are buying a number of generators and placing them strategically for major events in Leeds, York, Sheffield, and Harrogate.”

The company is also putting together two Major Incident Management Plan (MIMP) teams, used during big weather events, to operate from depots in Keighley and Northallerton.