The use of the public purse to bankroll an international cycling race has again been called into question as a council was challenged over forging links with a firm producing the most environmentally damaging plastic.
Members of Richmondshire District Council, who unanimously declared a climate emergency in July, were asked why they were hosting Tour de Yorkshire stages, when the sponsor of a leading team, Ineos, was Europe’s leading PVC compounds manufacturer.
Team Ineos, which is the successor to Team Sky, plays a high-profile role in the event as its squad features Tour de France winners Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal and has Sir Dave Brailsford at its helm.
The challenge over public funding for the cycling race follows numerous complaints that money generated from rises in council tax should be focused on essential services and that private firms could sponsor the race instead.
North Yorkshire County Council alone has given Welcome to Yorkshire £595,000 in fees and for costs relating to bike races since 2013 and contributes £250,000 more every year in a business rates pool with Scarborough, Craven, Hambleton, Richmondshire and Ryedale councils.
Council leaders have repeatedly argued that the race is excellent value for money in boosting the local economy, showcasing the area and providing an exciting event which draws communities together.
Green Party councillor Kevin Foster told members he had been “very surprised” to see the council had prioritised working with partners to host a finish in Richmond for the Tour de Yorkshire as part of its business plan.
In declaring the emergency in July, the council committed to “ensuring that all strategic decisions, budget formulation and planning policy is enacted to ensure protection of the environment” and to “influencing and inspiring partners across the district, county and region to contribute to achieving the council’s environment and climate goals”.
Cllr Foster said support for the event featuring Team Ineos was incongruous in a business plan where other priorities include improving recycling rates and cutting energy wastage.
Environmentalists claim PVC – which Ineos produces at its Newton Aycliffe plant ten miles from Richmondshire – is the most environmentally damaging plastic as its production, use, and disposal results in the release of toxic, chlorine-based chemicals, which build up in the water, air and food chain.
He also highlighted how Ineos, which has numerous licences to frack in North Yorkshire, had ridiculed the latest moratorium on the controversial energy production method.
Cllr Foster said: “Ineos is a sponsor of a major team, they are also one of the major producers of plastic and have called the Government’s attitude to fracking as ‘pathetic’.
“If this happens in Yorkshire the effect will be devastating for the local communities, tourism and economy. In July, the council voted unanimously to support a climate emergency motion.
“This was an opportunity to back that motion by contacting the Tour de Yorkshire stating we would love to support the tour, however feel unable to because of the Ineos involvement in the event.”
The council’s chairman, Councillor Stuart Parsons replied that the authority had no right of control over international cycling’s rules on teams.
He said: “Saying we won’t host one stage because of the participation of one team means that we would jeopardise the whole event. We would also have to look at all the other teams.
“At the moment fracking in North Yorkshire has been stopped by the current government and it doesn’t appear to be moving forward, so that concern has been lifted temporarily. We haven’t worked out what we are going to do with our climate action plan and until we do I don’t think we should be taking strident positions in that regard.”
North Yorkshire County Council leader and board member of Welcome to Yorkshire, which helps run the Tour de Yorkshire, Councillor Carl Les said: “We can’t chose what companies decide to sponsor in terms of publicity activity for their brands.”