How Velo South became so controversial

We trace the story behind why the cycle ride this Sunday has provoked such anger and what is being done about it:

Velo Birmingham 2017
Velo Birmingham 2017

It’s the cycle ride that’s had threats of protest and the most heartfelt pledges to fundraise for loved ones.

Velo South is set to be the county’s largest ever closed road cycle event, if not the very first of its kind, in the area.

On September 23, an estimated 15,000 cyclists are set to take on the 100-mile circuit to and from Goodwood, travelling through Pulborough, Ashington, Partridge Green, Southwater, Loxwood, Fernhurst, and back down through Rogate, Compton and Funtington.

Velo South route

To facilitate the event, a schedule of road closures from two to nine hours will be in place on the day, including several main roads such as the A283, the B2145 and parts of the A29.

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While the event organiser, CSM Active, has sought to assure parishioners spectators will line the route to cheer participants on, residents have been angered and even outraged by the road closures and lack of community consultation on the event.

A tale of two bike rides

Posters have been put up by campaigners hoping to stop Velo South, a 100-mile cycling event.

Opinion is divided among residents with some looking forward to the event and some angered by it.

CSM Active has promised a professionally run, enjoyable event that will boost business and West Sussex County Council has consistently referred to Velo as a ‘showcase’ of the area for tourism.The majority of those opposed to the event are people who live within or on the huge closed-circuit concerned about access issues,particularly in villages that will have their only main roads shut off for up to eight or nine hours.

Duncan Cunningham, who lives near Compton, is a part of the Stop Velo South campaign, which he stressed was ‘not against cyclists’.

“What we’re very angry about is that West Sussex County Council and CSM Active seem to have started planning this long in advance of actually letting anyone know about it.

Road closures and times as displayed on the Velo South website

“Far from expecting anyone to work with the community to see if they could make it a success, I think they anticipated opposition and waited until it was too late to do anything about it.

“We’ve been fuming really because we haven’t been given a chance to have a dialogue about it.”

He said the group had been frustrated by the lack of response from the county council and was threatening legal action to stop the road closures, as well as walking protests on the day.

Velo South engagement meeting 26-07-18. CSM presentation by excutive chairman Jon Rigdeon.

He added: “The walking protests are there as a final stage because if we can’t stop this event, we want to make sure that future events are managed very differently.”

Farmers, doctors, nurses, churchgoers, carers and any other residents wishing to travel on the day will have to negotiate detours that will change throughout the day.

Meetings also heard anger over the effect on businesses that would not be able to operate on the day or who stood to lose custom, including a wedding booking that was cancelled due to road restrictions around the venue the following day.

In response to concerns, West Sussex County Council has produced access plans for 16 locations seriously affected by the road closures, including limiting the bike ride to one lane to allow some cars through.

A ‘massive imposition’

A great deal of the controversy over Velo South has been complaints over a lack of consultation in how it was organised.

West Sussex County Council officers agreed to the event in February this year after discussions with organisers in late 2017 with the support of the council cabinet.

District councils were also informed.

Councillors of all levels went on to express frustration they had not been given a chance to comment on or counter the proposals as elected representatives.

The county council said there was ‘no requirement for the council to make a formal decision about the road closures’ as it was ‘not our event and does not involve expenditure by the council’.

At the time, a spokesman added that: “As the event organisers, CSM Active is responsible for engaging local businesses and residents in their plans and for preparing to manage all of the consequences so that the roads are available as soon as practicable and for immediate access where needed.”

After complaints from her Midhurst area, county councillor Kate O’Kelly put forward a motion to full council to cancel the road closures, or to limit them for the elite cyclists.

The motion was defeated in a vote of 37 votes to eight, with ten abstentions, largely due to safety concerns for the 15,000 participants.

Commenting after the debate, cllr O’Kelly said the road closures were a ‘massive imposition’ on residents.

She said: “The leader of the council admitted during the debate that they had been late to engage with the community.

“If the organisers had asked, the affected parishes would have been able to make helpful suggestions for a much better design – shorter closures, more crossing points and perhaps an A to B ride rather than a loop.”

But many people are more optimistic about what the event could bring to our area.

Addressing Boxgrove Parish Council this week, county councillor Jeremy Hunt said he knew goodwill had been lost by a lack of early consultation but people were ‘coming round’ to the idea of the event and plenty were supporting it. He said: “It’s a big event, it raises somewhere between a million and £2million for charity, it brings people to West Sussex. Please give it a go.”

Efforts to inform residents have included a roadshow event by CSM, presentations at local committees, a parish engagement meeting and three sets of leaflet drops of around 160,000 leaflets.

‘Long-term’ benefit

Support for the event from West Sussex County Council and Horsham and Chichester District Council rests on the long-term benefit of increased tourism in years to come.

Participants will have a chance to see the county’s countryside and what the area has to offer. Of the 15,000 cyclists due to take part, the county council estimates 80 per cent will be from outside the area and will need to book hotel accommodation.

Around two spectators per participant are also expected to spend in the county.

A county council spokesperson said: “Experience in other areas (for instance in Surrey that has a similar event on its roads each year) has shown that many local people and businesses are supportive of such events – such that they have been rerun for several years.

“The Velo South event will attract a wide range of people to visit West Sussex outside the usual tourist season. Many of these will be new visitors.

“We expect to see a thorough economic analysis of the event once it has been run but we anticipate there will be significant gains for many local businesses and for the wider West Sussex economy which is why we are keen to see this event be a success in our beautiful county.”

Organiser CSM Active is also looking for a more longer-term investment in the event.

Director Richard Relton told a meeting of the North Chichester County Local Committee that this year’s event would in fact not make a profit but if successful, the company hoped to repeat Velo South in years to come.