What effect will next year's Tour de France have on Harrogate?
PUBLISHED: 00:12 07 November 2013
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Yorkshire prepares for the Grand Depart
When the Grand Départ came to England in 2007, it brought a £73m economic benefit to London and £15m to Kent as more than three million spectators descended to watch the peloton whiz by.
With the increased interest in cycling following the country’s clutch of medals at the 2012 Olympics and our brace of Tour winners, it is widely anticipated that Yorkshire could surpass these already generous economic benefits when the race comes to the county next July.
Harrogate has the unique distinction of seeing the race on both of its two-days in Yorkshire, with Stage One on Saturday July 5th coming to a sprint finish outside the Hotel du Vin on Harrogate Stray, and Stage Two passing through the district en route from York to Sheffield.
The Grand Départ is expected to attract more than a million spectators and a worldwide TV audience of more than two billion viewers in 188 countries, giving the county, and more specifically Harrogate, a priceless opportunity to make use of what is in effect a low-cost international advertising platform.
So what should North Yorkshire’s premier spa town do to make the most of its time in the international spotlight?
‘We want visitors to have the best experience they possibly can when they come to Harrogate next year,’ said Sandra Doherty, president of Harrogate Chamber of Trade, board member of Welcome to Harrogate and owner of Alexa House Hotel. ‘We must make sure the town looks splendid in every way because we want them to come back again and tell other people what a fantastic time they had.
‘The race itself will not be massively beneficial in terms of revenue, as most cyclists tend to be campers who pack their own lunches and are not big spenders. But the knock-on effect – the legacy if you like – is going to be massive. If we had charged every resident £10 we still couldn’t have afforded the publicity this event is going to bring us. We must make the most of it.’
The Yorkshire leg of the Tour will hit Harrogate in the same week as the Great Yorkshire Show, but will this be a bonus for the organisers or could it act as a distraction, robbing one event of support to the advantage of another and making it more difficult than usual for visitors to book a stay in town?
‘We certainly see the Tour de France as a great opportunity to bring the Great Yorkshire Show to a much wider audience,’ said Nigel Pulling, chief executive of Yorkshire Agricultural Society, which organises the Great Yorkshire Show. ‘Although horse rather than pedal power will be topping our show’s main ring programme, in the shape of bare-back rider Lorenzo, for anyone looking to stay longer in the area, a day with us would make a lot of sense.
‘There will be some logistical considerations to address during our setting up period the weekend of the race, but these are already in hand.’
Harrogate council has set aside in excess of half a million pounds to meet the cost of hosting the Tour and to ensure the town is up to the job of providing a competitor and spectator experience worthy of the event’s international reputation.
Crowd-modelling specialists predict there will be around 300,000 people watching the race in the Harrogate district on day one and more than 170,000 on day two, making dedicated spectator hubs a priority in terms of planning.
The borough council, working with North Yorkshire County Council, has produced guidance sheets on setting up temporary campsites and car parks, renting out homes and setting up B&Bs. And there’s already talk of pop-up hotels being built across Harrogate to accommodate visitors.
Traders have been told to expect entire town centre streets to be rearranged, the removal of traffic lights and bollards at the bottom of Parliament Street and some complete road closures for the duration of the race.
To balance this out, a £4m road upgrade has been green-flagged to prepare Harrogate and North Yorkshire for the descent of the cyclists, their crews, hordes of journalists and race enthusiasts.
Councillor John Weighell, leader of North Yorkshire County Council, admitted that the timing of some of the works had been accelerated to accommodate the race: ‘These were all works required over the next five years and will provide a long-term benefit for the network and for highways users for years to come – in addition to the economic benefits from the Grand Départ.
‘It’s been estimated that the economic value of the event for Yorkshire will be in the order of £100m, a very large proportion of which will benefit the tourism industry – one of the bedrocks of the North Yorkshire economy.’
The county council is paying half the £400,000 hosting fee required by the race organisers, with other monies coming from district and borough councils and the Dales National Park. The county council has also contributed £100,000 towards costs incurred by Welcome to Yorkshire.
In a bid to make the preparation process easier for people across the Harrogate district, the borough council has agreed a planning amnesty for those wanting to set up temporary campsites, caravan parks and car parks.
In making the decision to relax the rules, Councillor Alan Skidmore, cabinet member for transport, planning and economic development, said: ‘We want to make it easy as we’re going to rely on others to help us cope with these numbers. We know hotel and guesthouses have been filling fast and that we need much more bed space than they can provide.’
The longer term aim of all the hard work the district is ploughing into preparations for the Tour is, of course, to extend the benefits well beyond July next year. And the signs are already good that Harrogate could be reaping the rewards for a long time to come.
‘We’re already getting visitors coming to town to cycle the route and I’ve got bookings for the months directly before and after the race for people who want to try it for themselves,’ said Sandra Doherty.
‘Although I did have to break it to some Belgium visitors that they won’t actually be able to do the sprint finish on the Stray because it will mean going the wrong way up a one-way street.’