ANGER is growing following the announcement of the cycle route for this year’s Challenge Henley event.
Parish councils, businesses and Henley MP John Howell were surprised to learn the final route had been decided without them being consulted.
Event organisers Just Racing UK had circulated three possible routes among affected parish councils, most of which raised objections.
Now a fourth previously unseen route has been agreed with Oxfordshire County Council which will be used for the third annual triathlon event on Sunday, September 8.
The Challenge competitors will race along sections of the A4130 between Henley and Nuffield and the B481 between Nettlebed and Watlington. Three tourist attractions are likely to have to close and businesses along the route will also be affected by the 12-hour road closures that will be needed.
The county council says the route reflects the views of residents but parish councillors claim the consultation process was undemocratic.
Thomas Dunn, chairman of Pishill with Stonor Parish Council, said: “This decision…. has been reached without any consultation with the parishes most closely affected, despite them having been promised to the contrary.
“We can only assume that the consultation on the other routes did not produce the desired response, so it has been decided to adopt an alternative behind closed doors.
“To foist route four upon residents in these rural communities without proper consultation is absolutely iniquitous and entirely without defence.”
Councillor Dunn said his council’s objection had been ignored.
He said: “Suffice to say, while attempting to produce an amicable and supportive solution to the problems encountered by the triathlon organisers, it would now appear that our efforts have been in vain.
“The decision made shows a scandalous disregard for local rural communities and there is no doubt that a monumental wave of disaffected opinion will be the result.
Ian Hill, chairman of Watlington Parish Council, said: “Our main concern is the route has been known for a long time but it was kept secret and then selected without coming back to those councils that objected strongly to the old routes. We are really put out to say the least.”
He said the cyclists’ presence in Watlington would cause major disruption.
“We expect that the route will cause considerable traffic jams in the middle of town,” he said. “We have a lot of traffic coming off the motorway through Watlington and on towards Nettlebedbut that route is going to be closed. We are going to have a lot of drivers doing U-turns to get back onto the motorway.”
Elizabeth Longley, who chairs Swyncombe Parish Council, said: “We are very displeased with the route as were not consulted at all.
“We went to the parish and they all said they wouldn’t mind a cycle race coming through but what they do mind is being shut down for 12 hours and I think that’s a legitimate argument.
“The race it is a commercial enterprise and they charge people to take part, which just adds grist to the mill. We are all very angry and I know that the majority of Swyncombe has written to the county council to let it know what they think.
“The overriding feeling is a commercial concern seems to be more important than the electorate.”
Caroline Newton, who represents Watlington on the county council, said: “Everybody is very angry. They feel their views have been completely ignored and the consultation that they did take part in was a bit of a sham because they were not consulted on the final route.
“It puts the problem right in the lap of parishes in rural communities that don’t have pavements. People won’t be able to get out of their driveways and if they go out on the road they could be hit by cyclists.
“I don’t think anyone would mind if it wasn’t road closures from 6am to 6pm, which means they are trapped in their homes pretty much.”
Norman Gibson, vice-chairman of Nettlebed Parish Council, said that the village would be more isolated under the new route than under the previous three.
“This is worse,” he said. “We object to Nettlebed being cut off for a long period of time. It is not acceptable to close roads without putting in a really good system in place to help residents.”
David Hammond, who chairs Peppard Parish Council, said: “The impact that Challenge has on the community of South Oxfordshire is significant. I don’t think the economic assessment took account of that.
“There needs to be a balance between the prestige and putting Henley on the map and the effect on rural communities.”
Stefan Gawrysiak, Deputy Mayor of Henley, said: “It is hugely disappointing that Oxfordshire County Council decided the route for the triathlon without consultation.
“The only people consulted about the new route were Just Racing, the event organisers. It is outrageous that Henley Town Council and the other parishes were not consulted about the new route.”
Mr Howell, who chaired a meeting in October with the parish councils about the three routes proposed previously, said: “I set up the liaison committee to seek to bring all the arguments for and against the event under one roof. There seems little point in continuing with the committee if these are the circumstances under which it will operate.”
Stonor Park is likely to shut for the third consecutive year as the A4130 and B481 will be closed.
Owner Lord Camoys said: “The idea that only those along the route are affected is quite ridiculous. They haven’t actually consulted each of the neighbouring parishes - they haven’t done a proper job.
“They take a narrow view that is Just Racing and the county council. It is idle and irresponsible — appalling. This is cloud cuckoo land.”
Nuffield Place, which is owned by the National Trust, may also have to close as it would be difficult for visitors to get there from the Henley direction. Greys Court, another trust property, will be accessible, which it wasn’t under the other three routes.
Nikki Steiger, owner of Get Furnished in Nettlebed, supported Just Racing,, saying: “I will only be affected in a small way and it is only one day in a year.”
Rev Brendan Bailey, whose combined benefice includes Rotherfield Greys and Nettlebed churches, says he will manage whatever the disruption.
We have always managed to work round the previous routes,” he said.
Peter Bland, landlord of the Malsters Arms in Rotherfield Greys, is meeting Just Racing representatives on Tuesday to discuss how his business will be affected.
“I was terribly upset with the route to begin with,” he said. “My Sunday lunch trade is quite enormous but then I was asked to see them so I’ll reserve judgment.”
The county council says the new route has been designed to “minimise” potential disruption while staging a sporting event which brings “many benefits” to the area.
Deputy leader Rodney Rose said: “The route we have put forward is itself the result of consultation with the local community and reflects, as far as possible, the feedback we received following discussions on the various options.
“The council has a responsibility to advertise the road closures necessary for this event to take place and to consult further on a route which is itself the result of consultation feedback starts to run the risk of going round in circles.
“The Henley triathlon might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s clear that hosting a major sporting event of this nature brings many economical benefits as well as providing an exciting spectacle for sport fans and local residents.
“It’s impossible to stage an event like this without a certain level of disruption and, as always, efforts will be made to keep this to a minimum.
“However, we are ultimately talking about transport disruption on one Sunday out of the year and I hope most people will be willing to accept that.”
A Just Racing spokeswoman said: “We are delighted to be returning for a third year to Henley to provide a world-class international event.
“After lengthy consultation and meetings with John Howell MP and town and parish councillors, we have taken in to account all feedback and have devised a route which we hope will test athletes and cause minimal disruption to residents.
“We will be working closely with both our charity partner Sue Ryder, local communities and businesses to minimise disruption and maximise the positive impact that we can have in the area.”