WITH exactly six months to go until the arrival in Yorkshire of one of the greatest sporting events on the planet, there is still much work to be done.
A new park and ride site at Elland Road in Leeds must be completed, along with £400,000 worth of improvements to the city’s road network.
Precise policing arrangements have to be established, traffic issues and necessary road closures identified, while businesses and communities which stand to be affected will need to be notified of the disruption they might encounter.
None of this, however, can dampen the excitement of the visit of the Tour de France to the Broad Acres, with the Grand Départ from Leeds on July 5 the prelude to a 120-mile ride through some of the county’s most breathtaking scenery.
This will be followed the next day by a more gruelling stage starting in York and finishing in Sheffield.
At every turn of the pedal, the world’s leading riders will be cheered on by hordes of spectators – how best to accommodate them being another factor that must be taken into consideration.
Yet, as Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity notes in his article for this newspaper today, a key part of the planning in advance of the event must revolve around the legacy that it will leave behind.
To this end, the organisers have been busy. Quite rightly, the primary goal of those spearheading this all-important legacy work is to use the Tour’s visit as the catalyst for encouraging greater numbers of children and families in Yorkshire to get on their bikes, partly through the launch of new cycle lending schemes.
This will bring benefits from the point of view of increasing fitness and promoting cycling as a pastime – not to mention offering the potential to usher new talent into the sport to follow in the tyre tracks of the likes of Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins.
Furthermore, the fact the eyes of the world will be on Yorkshire this summer will raise the region’s international profile still further, building on the impressive efforts of Welcome to Yorkshire and establishing the county as a leading global destination.
If all this can be achieved then the benefits of hosting the Tour will continue to be felt long after the riders have returned across the Channel and far into the future.
It is an opportunity that Yorkshire must now grasp with both hands.
UK left to cope with migrant influx
WHILE any attempt by the far-right to fan the flames of discontent arising from the influx of economic migrants from Romania and Bulgaria must be resisted, it would be wrong not to acknowledge the valid concerns as to the impact their arrival will have on the UK.
A decade ago, when eight eastern European countries joined the EU, the Labour government scoffed at suggestions that it could trigger a migrant invasion.
Yet where the Home Office predicted no more than 13,000 would come here to work each year, more than a million Poles and other nationals duly flocked to Britain to enjoy the benefits of a more buoyant economy.
In spite of the hardships this country has endured since then, the lure for citizens of two of Europe’s poorest nations remains – not least given the improved job prospects offered by the UK and the still relatively easy access to benefits.
Yet it is one of the European Union’s greatest failings that its integral concept of the free movement of people between member states is not supported by efforts to help receiving countries plan and pay for the inevitable arrival of large numbers of migrants.
It is in this context that the accusation by Bulgaria’s former foreign minister Nikolay Mladenov that the “mass hysteria” surrounding the immigration debate is the work of political extremists must be dismissed as arrant nonsense.
Expressing concern about uncontrolled immigration into any country does not make you a racist. Britain knows to its cost the added strain on already stretched health services, housing provision and school places that mass migration brings.
Indeed, in a nation endeavouring to nurture the early signs of economic recovery, it would be foolhardy not to express concern as to the fresh difficulties a new influx might now provoke.
Widow’s extraordinary fortitude
FEW would be capable of the remarkable fortitude shown by Maureen Greaves, whose husband Alan died after being attacked on his way to church near his Sheffield home on Christmas Eve 2012.
A committed Christian, she says she forgives the two men who carried out the killing, although insists this does not lessen her resolve to see justice done.
Nevertheless, Mrs Greaves’s determination to see some good come out of her husband’s death is nothing short of inspirational.
She is replying to a letter sent to her from prison by one of his killers, Jonathan Bowling, and has told how her husband’s death has brought together his local community, encouraging neighbours to volunteer for the food bank and shop the couple opened weeks before he was killed.
Amid the darkness engendered by such a brutal and mindless act, her extraordinary example represents a beacon of hope.