Following the news that the Vachery Triathlon Festival will now be held on open-roads, we interviewed the race organisers, Brave Events, about why the decision was taken, the views of the local population towards the race and how it affects their future plans…
220: The Challenge Henley organisers have also faced local objection to their bike route (see our news story here). Was there not a contract or fixed agreement made with the local authority about the closed-roads?
Brave Events: Yes – we have a contract and a fixed agreement with the council in place, and indeed, in effect. This was achieved after going through the proper channels in the final quarter of last year and following the successful test event on closed roads in 2012. This was met with no objections by councillors and the council and it was recognised as an event of significant benefit to the whole of Surrey that could promote the area as a scene of sporting excellence.
The decision to race this on 'open-roads' was one that we have made in recent weeks following extensive consultation with the local community and following road surveys to monitor traffic levels. Please note that part of the course does remain on closed roads at key areas – such as around transition, when it goes onto smaller roads, etc.
Were the locals consulted previously before the closed-roads announcement was first made?
As you may have seen in the local press (see a This is Surrey report here), there was a vocal minority (and I need to stress a minority – we received hundreds of letters and emails in support from residents and businesses plus many local entrants) – who are against sporting events, cycling races coming to the Surrey region.
As the first of three major events in the area, we are the first to go through the consultative period and as such met a lot of strong opinion from a small group who were either misinformed about the realities of the race, disillusioned about sport being held in the area post-Olympics or held an anti-cycling agenda that we became a useful outlet for.
What led to the meetings with the local population? Were there complaints?
The meetings were part of the communication plan required by Surrey of any sporting events company working in the area this year. We exceeded the requirements asked of us (such as mail shots, community meetings, press engagement) and followed the same blue print used by the Olympics committee for the road race, except we publicised it more. The meetings reported in the local press were those that were a part of the comms plan. Nothing out of the ordinary and all sports events organisers that have a closed road race follow the same agenda.
Does this change your planning for 2014?
No change in plans for 2014. The race can be held comfortably on semi-closed roads for numbers up to 1,500, although we do plan to grow beyond those numbers given the amazing course, proximity to London and ambition for it to become the biggest and best middle-distance course in the UK. For that to happen we will look at a closed road race again in the future.
We are forming a 'race committee' made up of local residents, politicians, business owners, etc. Our new motto is 'selling rather than telling'. I think it became clear that during the Olympics, residents were told they were having a closed road race and barriers were put up to force people off the roads and were heavily policed and marshalled. We neither want to go down this route as we feel it isn't in the spirit of sport and we want our neighbours to love this race like we do and like the competitors do, so whilst we have full permission and support for a closed road race – we only want to use that right if the residents are fully behind us as well.
We feel that will happen after this race when they see the wonderful benefits it brings to the area and all the perks that an annual international triathlon event brings.