Friday, 23 July 2021

More police needed on day of Challenge event, say councillors

MORE police are needed at this year’s Challenge Henley, say town councillors.

MORE police are needed at this year’s Challenge Henley, say town councillors.

The cycle race element of the triathlon on Sunday, September 8 will have to be authorised by the Thames Valley Chief Constable Sara Thornton and officers will be on duty at the organisers’ base at Phyllis Court on the day.

But councillors say there should be more police on the streets, even though they will be closed to traffic, to manage the crowds of spectators.

Councillor Will Hamilton said security should be tightened following the bombings at the Boston Marathon last week.

He said: “There should be more than one police officer, maybe between 10 and 20 for the whole event.

“The police attend the regatta and this event has grown to a point where it also needs to be policed properly.

“There doesn’t need to be loads of police but more than just someone on the end of the radio.”

Councillor Martin Akehurst said he was concerned about possible delays in emergency vehicles gaining access to the streets when they would be closed for up to 12 hours.

He said: “In Henley we have a lot of elderly residents and if we have to get an ambulance through at short notice I don’t want people having to phone up the central headquarters to try to find a policeman and then have to get someone to escort it. That takes too long in an emergency.

“I think the police presence should be a lot greater.”

Deputy Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak said the cost of the police presence should be met by the event organisers, Just Racing UK.

He said: “We know that the police are pushed at the moment so to out that on to the public purse would be unacceptable.”

Cllr Gawrysiak said the organisers had planned to have between 40 and 60 marshals present on the day last year but only half of them turned up.

He said: “Bearing that in mind, I hope the police look into that and make sure that they have determined what they need for the race and that they turn up.”

Councillor Pam Phillips said volunteers were used last year for marshalling but this year the job would be carried out by professional marshals.

Councillor Joan Bland said there had been problems with the radio network in previous years so this year there should be a rehearsal to make sure it worked properly.

Councillor David Nimmo Smith said that in the first year the organisers hadn’t realised there were areas such as the Stonor Valley where it was impossible to get a radio signal. He added: “It shouldn’t have needed a learning curve but we are where we are.”

A draft report by Trafeco, an advisory group which is responsible for health and safety at the event, recommends that a police planning officer should be stationed at Phyllis Court.

But it adds: “It is accepted that this event should, whenever possible, be capable of being carried through without the need for police assistance.”

Inspector Mark Harling, head of Henley police, said this type of event was usually staffed by marshals and members of the organising team but that an assessment would be made of how many officers were needed on the day.

Meanwhile, Swyncombe Parish Council says it still has concerns over the safety of the cycle route because of the four U-turn points.

Chairwoman Lil Longley said: “A great majority of the competitors are not professional cyclists and the risk of high-speed accidents is considerable.” She claimed that Just Racing aimed to minimise the race’s effect on Henley but didn’t consider the impact it would have on residents and businesses in the surrounding areas.

Mrs Longley said: “The local community will be seriously affected and the restrictions on their movement with 12-hour road closures will inevitably impact on safety issues as residents, visitors and businesses cannot be expected to stay in their houses.”

She said there could be an issue with farmers harvesting their crops who would need to go on the roads using large, slow-moving machines.

“It should be noted that many of the roads proposed are narrow and will be dangerous for any movement, particularly where there is a U-turn and two-way cycle traffic,” said Mrs Longley.

“The competitors will wish to practise on the roads before the event, bringing many additional cyclists on to these difficult roads at race speed.”

She was particularly concerned about cyclists racing on Howe Hill, near Watlington, and Huntercombe End Lane, which is a single lane road with many blind corners.

Just Racing did not respond to a request for comment.

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