Richmondshire District Council has approved spending a further £100,000 underwriting next year’s Tour de Yorkshire with some money from its emergency reserves pot, following a warning from Welcome to Yorkshire that without the guarantee the event could be moved elsewhere.
Following a lengthy debate, members of the council’s corporate board agreed to earmark a total of about £300,000 to give to the race’s organisers, despite an apparent growing unease about taxpayers money being used to prop up races run by Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), which made a 46m euro profit in 2016.
The meeting was told Welcome to Yorkshire’s chief executive James Mason was visiting councils responsible for the host towns and cities of next year’s May Day bank holiday weekend event to appeal for £100,000 from each in case the tourism body could not find enough sponsorship for the event.
However, it was suggested local authorities for Leyburn, Barnsley, Beverley, Halifax, Huddersfield, Leeds, Redcar and Skipton, as well as North Yorkshire County Council, may not be the only councils that Welcome to Yorkshire approaches.
Richmondshire council director Callum McKeon said Mr Mason had stated he required a £100,000 commitment from each host town “before he considers broadening that out further”.
Mr McKeon told the meeting: “James said if he cannot secure the funding for this, then yes there is a potential the race would not go ahead.
“If the race doesn’t go ahead they will put their efforts into something else and there is then a danger the race would not come back because ASO will take it elsewhere.
“There will be another event somewhere else in the country and it won’t be the Tour de Yorkshire any more.”
The meeting heard as the event had been postponed for two years, rather than cancelled, and that there was unspent money left over from the rain-hit UCI World Cycling Championships in 2019, the lion’s share of the £300,000 from Richmondshire had already been set aside.
A number of councillors objected to the public funding, and in particular the council’s reserves, being used for an elite cycling race rather than create the cycling lanes between towns and villages which the county council has said it cannot fund
Councillor Kevin Foster said the public purse was being used to support a profit-making business, adding: “That’s a dangerous thing to do with taxpayers money.
“The people I speak to think this cycling race has had its day and it’s time to move on.
“I cannot think that if this goes ahead the result will be a council tax rise next year to pay for it at a time when some residents will be struggling financially as a result of Covid-19.”
While there appeared to be a consensus among councillors that the economic benefits of the race were difficult if not impossible to measure, some said they felt it would be strong and long-lasting while others questioned whether the races had any significant impact.
Swaledale and Arkengarthdale councillor Richard Good said while a lot of people thought the race lasted a few hours and there were no local benefits, Richmondshire’s landscapes would be showcased on television leading to cyclists retracing the race route for years to come, boosting the local economy.
He said: “Hundreds will follow this route, they did after all the other events, even the disaster of the World Championships.
“There is an understandable worry about how this money could be better spent by a council which is strapped because of Covid.”
Speaking after the meeting, council leader, Councillor Angie Dale, said: “This event is not just a bike race – it’s a festival of Yorkshire, and it will show off Richmondshire as a county to come and visit, promoting our local shops, businesses and attractions, and encouraging people to shop local.
“There are massive economic benefits to this event coming to Leyburn – 2022 could be a fallow year for the district’s businesses as people begin to look to holiday abroad once more, so it is important that we put Richmondshire on the map, showcasing it before millions of TV viewers and race visitors for years to come.”