A request to prevent or limit controversial road closures for cycling event Velo South has been rejected by the county council.
The 100-mile ride, which will see 15,000 cyclists take to the roads of West Sussex on September 23, has had opposition from residents concerned about the impact of closing main roads around their homes for up to nine hours.
On Friday, county councillors heard a motion from Midhurst’s Kate O’Kelly to either ‘abandon the road closures or introduce short rolling road closures for the elite cyclists only’.
A keen cyclist herself, cllr O’Kelly stressed her concerns soley centred around the road closures and the impact on 162,000 households.
Dr O’Kelly added: “We need to think again. This does not need to be a closed road event. It’s too much of an imposition on our residents.
“They’re saying this loudly and clearly and we should be listening.”
Her suggestion was not supported by most of her fellow councillors, though David Bradford (Con, Rother Valley) said there were ‘severe safety implications’ around the event.
But Bob Lanzer, cabinet member for highways and infrastructure, noted that safety was ‘the whole point’ of road closures in the first place and the economic benefits of the event would be ‘quite profound’ both on the day and in the longer term.
He added: “I readily accept that some businesses and residents will be inconvenienced on the day, but just the holding of this event on an extensive 100-mile course showcases West Sussex.”
David Barling (Con, Bramber Castle) warned that supporting Dr O’Kelly’s request would mean ‘you end the event today’.
He added: “The safety factor overwhelms everything else.
“If you didn’t have a road closure, think of the traffic that would go headlong into 15,000 cyclists.”
Rejecting the idea that roads should only be closed for elite cyclists, Mr Lanzer said: “People who sign up to this event and pay for this event have the right to the same experience on the day, a closed road experience, the safest experience possible.
“If I was taking part in this event on my new bicycle it might well be that I’m lagging some way behind the elite cyclists, but I would expect to have a similar level of safety and protection through a closed-road system.
“It is just one day and in fact it’s only part of one day.”
Morwen Millson (Lib Dem, Horsham Riverside) spoke in support of Dr O’Kelly.
While also recognising the benefits of the Velo event, she told the meeting: “We do need to ensure that these issues of safety and convenience for the local residents who are going to be affected are fully taken account of.
“I would much appreciate it if the cabinet member and the leader could actually take this seriously and do what can be done to make sure that all of these issues have been fully dealt with so that people can actually live their lives if they don’t want to watch the cycling.”
Mrs Millson also told the meeting that the Camelia Botnar Foundation, in Cowfold, stood to lose £3,000 on the day and was still waiting to hear what help was available.
The motion was defeated by 37 votes to eight, with ten abstentions.
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