Why the UCI cycling event is still so controversial in Harrogate nearly two years later

It's the dispute which refuses to die - but what is driving the continued vociferous debate over Harrogate's hosting of the UCI Road World Championships?

Monday, 5th July 2021, 12:17 pm
Flashback to 2019 - Spectators near Bettys tearooms in Harrogate watch the Junior Men's Time Trial during the UCI Road World Championships. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Last week saw Harrogate Borough Council welcoming the positive results of a new report on public attitudes to the major international sporting event which came to Harrogate and Yorkshire in 2019 for nine days of cycling.

Carried out by The Sport Industry Research Centre (SIRC) at Sheffield Hallam University at the behest of UK Sport and its partners The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Sport England and British Cycling, the new report looked at the event's social impact only

Sign up to our daily Harrogate Advertiser Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Its conclusions were largely positive, with 52% of members of the public who responded saying they felt more positive about where they live because of the international cycling event.

But the report - called 2019 UCI Road World Championships: Social Impact Evaluation - did acknowledge in passing it was not all sweetness and light with the UCIs.

It said: “The event was seen to have had a major disruptive impact on the community in Harrogate, which is illustrated starkly by Harrogate Borough Council’s decision to refrain temporarily from hosting major events of this scale."

Harrogate Borough Council had already commissioned its own UCI impact study carried out by Ernst & Young commissioned after the international cycling circus left town which was published in 2020.

The results found 84 per cent of people who came to watch the event were satisfied or very satisfied with it, and that hosting the UCIs in Harrogate had resulted in a £17.8 million-pound boost to the local economy.

But complaints have persisted for the last two years from Harrogate town centre traders who said they lost many thousands of pounds in business as a result of the UCI events.

They say the expected number of cycling fans expected never materialised and that, because of disruptive road closures for the races, the town centre was deserted during the entire nine days of the UCI Road World Championships.

Local retail campaign group Independent Harrogate conduced a survey of its own looking into the event's economic impact.

After speaking to 22 of its members, the group claimed losses amounted to nearly £1 million.

More complaints came from defenders of the Stray who were also furious that the parkland at West Park turned into a grassless muddy bog which took more than six months to repair.

But that is by no means the end of the story.

Yet another set of conclusions on the legacy of the UCIs is now due later this year.

This one is the work of members of Harrogate Borough Council's own overview and scrutiny committee which more than a year ago set out to conduct their own investigation into the key questions they say were left unanswered after the controversial cycling event was held in 2019.

So what are the key factors behind the lingering UCIs controversy?

UCIs in Harrogate: The five divisive issues

1. Visitor numbers to Harrogate during the UCI Road World Championships

Of 69,000 unique visitors, 66% were from outside the district, contributing to total event attendance in Harrogate of 299,000 over nine days.

18,000 people visited the district for the first time and 12,000 travelled from abroad.

But the figures were way below the huge numbers of predicted before the event by organisers.

One had even said in advance there could be a million fans turning up.

2. Visitor spend in Harrogate for the UCIs duration

Spending on hotel accommodation alone in Harrogate contributed £9 million to the local economy, making this their largest item of spending.

Visitors also spent £5.9m on food and drink and £5.1m on retail.

3. Damage to the Stray caused during the UCIs Fan Zone

Repairing the damage to the Stray at West Park caused by heavy rainfall and the area acting as the official Fan Zone cost Harrogate Borough Council £51,572 up to the end of January 2020. Event organisers, Yorkshire 2019 also contributed funds to the work, which continued into spring 2020.

4. The cost of the 2019 UCIs to Harrogate Borough Council

Hosting the 2019 UCI Road World Championships cost Harrogate Borough Council a total of £606,000 according to figures published by the authority. The biggest single cost was £200,000 for the Fan Zone on The Stray at West Park and spectator infrastructure.

5. Impact of UCIs on business for Harrogate traders

The council’s impact study by Ernst & Young did not calculate lost trade caused by disruption, road closures and the less than expected visitor numbers.

But business pressure group Independent Harrogate put the losses incurred by its members at £1 million at least.

Factfile: 2019 UCI Road World Championships

Based in Harrogate as the host town, the 2019 UCI Road World Championships were held in the UK for the first time in nearly 40 years.

The event was secured after a joint-bid by British Cycling, UK Sport, Welcome to Yorkshire and the Government’s sport and culture department.

International big name cyclists taking part included Peter Sagan, Lizzie Deignan and Mathieu van der Poel.

The event organiser was Yorkshire 2019, a company set up to deliver the event with offices in Leeds and Harrogate.

The UC cycling championships are estimated in official reports to have attracted a cumulative global TV audience of 329 million.

A message from the Editor

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news on this free-to-read site, I am asking you to also please purchase a copy of our newspaper.

Our journalists are highly trained and our content is independently regulated by IPSO to some of the most rigorous standards in the world. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. So we need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers - and consequently the advertising that we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news and information by buying a copy of our newspaper.