Short-term disruption in Harrogate should not spell the end of our cycling success story - Mark Casci

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This year saw Yorkshire once again shining on an international stage with the successful staging of the UCI Road World Championships.

For eight days the sights and sounds of our glorious county was beamed to a worldwide audience as the region followed in the footsteps of the likes of Florence, Doha and Madrid.

Cyclists race through Harrogate

Cyclists race through Harrogate

Read more: Success for World Championships in Yorkshire

Cycling legend Eddie Merckx has on more than one occasion referred to Yorkshire as the cycling capital of the world and with the Worlds, the Tour de France Grand Depart and the Tour de Yorkshire, it is easy to see why.

However, it was clear from certain quarters of host town Harrogate that not everyone feels like they are sharing the spoils of the glory.

A report of what can charitably be described as a lively meeting from the Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce and Harrogate’s Business Improvement District made for very interesting reading and some of the commentary from those in attendance will have raised a few eyebrows.

Another glorious cycle race passes through Yorkshire

Another glorious cycle race passes through Yorkshire

“Complete disaster” was one verdict. “No one gives a monkey’s,” was another. Perhaps most strikingly of all was the comparison of the town’s beautiful Stray to that of the battlefields of the Somme.

Now, this column is not about to veer into mocking, disparaging or even criticising those people in attendance at this meeting.

I can imagine that many retailers will have suffered from a loss of takings. Such an occurrence should never be celebrated and those impacted have my sympathy.

As someone with close family members who work in small-scale retail, I know how damaging things like this can be to businesses and livelihoods.

Graeme Bandeira cartoon

Graeme Bandeira cartoon

But I could not help but feel dismayed when I read that there was widespread approval for one speaker at the meeting when he said that Harrogate businesses “do not want any more cycling events”.

This is a state-of-affairs which must be reversed.

The arrival of our region on the international stage for such a popular sport has been a huge boon for the wider Yorkshire economy.

Take for example the export of bicycles made in the region. They are currently at an all-time high. British bike exports reached a value of £84.6m last year alone.

It is estimated that the Worlds brought tens of thousands of additional visitors to Yorkshire.

An estimated quarter of a billion people tuned in to watch on television.

The true picture of the impact of the races will become clearer once the accountants take a deep dive into the figures but last year’s hosts in Austria claimed an immediate 40m euro spike in GDP.

That means investment and jobs for the future. And, with much of the international reporting of the Brexit crisis often unfairly depicting our attitude to the world, showcasing Yorkshire in such a positive sense can only be a good thing.

All of this however will be of little comfort to the small firms in Harrogate who are counting the cost in a far more negative sense.

Setting aside the hyperbole comparing The Stray to the Somme aside, a careless use of language if I may say so, we should ensure that the next time we bring a grand event akin to the Worlds to the region that everyone is brought along for the ride.

The grass will grow back on The Stray. Big picture-wise the Worlds will be yet another boost to Yorkshire.

But it would be a crime if Harrogate were to be taken off the cycling map for future events.

The best route forward is to establish a framework to ensure the whole town benefits in future. The Great Yorkshire Show brings disruption each year but works in tandem with the town to ensure it enriches the whole place.

Perhaps compensation packages could have been agreed upon in advance of the event, or even established retrospectively.

What cannot be allowed to happen, however, is for us to lose the momentum we have established as a county as a world class host for international events.

If we can warmly welcome the planet to our region then we can ensure that our residents enjoy a similar level of care.