Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Challenge in move threat

THE Challenge Henley event could be moved elsewhere.

THE Challenge Henley event could be moved elsewhere.

Organisers of the annual triathlon, which took place for the third time on Sunday, say they feel “not welcome” in Henley.

Race director Alan Rose, of Just Racing UK, said he was unable to confirm whether Challenge would return next year.

He confirmed he had been approached by other places wanting to stage the event and its Twitter handle has been changed from @challengehenley to @challengetriuk

Speaking exclusively to the Henley Standard, Mr Rose said: “It is no secret that the MP, Mayor and various councillors in Henley and the surrounding parishes have made it extremely clear that we are not welcome in Henley.

“We organise a lot of events all over the country and we have not experienced such hostility from the leaders of an area.”

Mr Rose said staging this year’s event, which attracted a record 1,400 athletes from around the world, had been an “uphill struggle”.

“It has been a very, very difficult year,” he said. “A lot of people tried very hard to make it not happen and to make it go ahead we had to fight really hard.

“We are not a political group, we are event organisers and we want a community that is right behind us in delivering that.

“We do disrupt the roads — we know that — but you can’t put on something of this size and not have some element of disruption — we have never said anything different. But we close the roads for a very small amount of time on a Sunday.

“All the things we have tried to do to improve things have genuinely been an exercise in futility because what we are really being told is, ‘we don’t care what you do’.”

The organisers arranged extra marshals and a new road closure system this year to help minimise the disruption caused by the 12-hour closures but Mr Rose claimed some drivers refused to listen to instructions.

He said: “Where most people were very respectful of the closures we still had a number of people who refused to wait for an escort and forced their way on to the route, which is disappointing.” Mr Rose said earlier criticism over the company’s failure to conduct an economic impact assessment of the event was unfair.

“You have 1,300 athletes coming to an area and thousands of spectators coming to watch,” he said. “It doesn’t take me or anybody else to say they are spending money — it is obvious.

“We tried to work with businesses but some people have got the grump with us and won’t work with us and there is not a lot we can do about the situation.

“We believe in the event, 100 per cent believe in Challenge Henley, but there is more to it than that. We want to have a triathlon in an area that really wants it.”

An announcement about Challenge’s future is expected next week.

Mr Rose’s comments came as businesses and residents complained that this year’s event caused as much disruption as in previous years.

Henley MP John Howell, who is due to hold a feedback meeting about the event later this month, said he had received about a dozen “angry” emails from constituents.

“I have had a lot of feedback from people who are unhappy with the extent of the road closures and the way that they are trapped in their houses,” he said.

“I think it shows that Just Racing needs to come back to the table and talk to the parish councils.”

Some businesses closed for day, including the Golden Ball in Assendon, while church services at Nuffield, Pishill and Rotherfield Greys were cancelled.

Of the two National Trust properties, Greys Court had 260 visitors, a third of what it normally attracts, while Nuffield Place had 263 visitors instead of the normal 400.

Jane Greenhaf, general manager for both houses, said: “The problems were made worse by the fact that the road closure signs were inaccurate and the stewards didn’t know the local area well enough to direct people trying to get to Greys Court.

“National Trust properties like Greys Court and Nuffield Place rely on visitors to sustain them, so any dip in weekend visitor figures has a knock-on financial impact.

“If the triathlon goes ahead next year we would urge the organisers to consult and prepare more carefully so that local businesses and attractions don’t suffer the same effects.”

Liz Longley, chairman of Swyncombe Parish Council, said: “I think there is still frustration and people are angry. There weren’t enough marshals and a lot of people were frustrated that they couldn’t get out of their houses.

“People outside the town really feel it because we haven’t got pavements so there is no way of leaving our homes if you don’t drive. I think that is wrong and it is amazing that it is allowed to happen.”

The council subsided the cost of a hog roast at the Five Horseshoes pub in Maidensgrove but landlords Daniel and Tracey Taverner say they still lost about £2,000 as a result of the triathlon.

Mr Taverner said: “We are more of a destination pub than we are a locals pub as most of our business usually comes from people who drive here for food but we have tried to make the best of it.

“The neighbours were very good in that they were trying to support us but from a business perspective it is still very detrimental to us. “

The couple tried to claim compensation from Just Racing for loss of business after last year’s event.

Mr Taverner said: “We think it is completely unfair that a commercial business should be allowed to do their business at the expense of all the local businesses.

“We would hope they would move it somewhere else or that they would talk to us about arranging it so that businesses can still trade.”

Andrea Grecu, manager of the White Hart in Nettlebed, said covers in the restaurant were down 50 per cent.

Guests staying in the hotel were warned of the road closures and four rooms were cancelled as a result.

“It was impossible to get to us or get out,” said Mrs Grecu.

Curly Chandler, landlord of the Rainbow Inn in Middle Assendon, said trade was down 20 per cent. This was about the same as last year, even though the Challenge cycle route no longer went past the pub.

“We were expecting a complete disaster but in actual fact it wasn’t and we were able to have a few customers in,” he said.

Lord Camoys offered half-price admission to Stonor Park for residents of neighbouring villages.

He said: “We thought ‘we are all going to be shutting down so let’s make the best of it’ and we had a very good response.”

However, he believes that he lost visitors because signs at Pishill and Turville Heath stated that the road was closed except for access.

Lord Camoys said: “I think a lot of people would have been put off by that because it didn’t say that we were open, which I think was a great mistake so far as we were concerned in the Stonor Valley.

“I think this course probably affected more people than in previous years.

“If they are staying here then they should limit the number of competitors to 500 to allow the course to be opened much earlier. This 12-hour ban which is being imposed on us is dreadful.”

The Quince Tree pub in Stonor remained open but the cafe was closed.

Lee Rawlings, course director of Greys Green golf course, said about 30 people cancelled their tee times due to the road closures.

“We had several phone calls from people explaining that they couldn’t get here,” he said. “If you came from the Reading way there wasn’t a problem but from the other way it was an impossibility.

“In the end, people just gave up and when you have three or four people in the car coming to play golf then it doesn’t take many cars to affect your business.”

Watlington parish councillor Robert Barber said he had heard that a couple in Howe Hill spent an hour-and-a-half waiting for an escort before being told by a controller that the “best thing” was to look for a gap and drive through it.

Ian Hill, chairman of Watlington Parish Council, said: “My complaints are more on the lack of communication. They sent notices out to people on the route but that is only a fraction of the people affected.”

Fellow councillor Barry Adby noted there were no signs by the junction 6 exit of the M40 informing drivers of the road closures.

“If you came off the M40 there was nothing to say that the road was closed coming into Watlington,” he said. “The first notice was a sign in a middle of the town.”

David Hammond, chairman of Peppard Parish Council, said: “The degree of marshalling that I saw was better than I had seen in previous years — in particular, the marshals actually had maps of the race route.

“However, the marshal on the Bolts Cross junction had come from Northampton and was quite tired and didn’t really have any local knowledge of the roads. It is quite a crucial junction and a new closure from previous years.”

John Halsall, chairman of Remenham Parish Council, said litter left by competitors and spectators had not been collected.

“I have had some reaction from my parishoners and the general view is still that it is an event too far for Remenham,” he said.

“We have lots and lots of events in the summer and by the time that the triathlon comes around everyone thinks, ‘not another event’.

Jon Connell, general manager at Badgemore Park Golf Club, said the club’s annual men’s invitation event went ahead as planned.

“We told everybody to get here early so we were fine,” he said. “It appeared to me that there were more motorbike escorts than in previous years.

“You have to kick up such a fuss to get the organisers to listen but we were pleased that what they said they were going to do they appeared to do this time around.”

In Henley, business owners said footfall was affected by the road closures. Lorraine Hillier, a town councillor who owns the Hot Gossip coffee house in Friday Street, said takings were down about 20 per cent, about the same as last year.

“It was one of our quieter Sundays but it wasn’t like there was a dramatic impact,” she said.

“I think I can live with it because the truth is there are lots of things that can impact takings. This event only happens once a year.”

Julie Rainbow, landlady of the Five Horsehoes in Reading Road, said: “It was quiet in the pub but it was quiet everywhere. I think that is due to the kind of event that it is, with people starting and finishing at different times.”

Town and district councillor Joan Bland, who owns Asquiths teddy bear shop in New Street, said: “My staff did manage to get in but it was very quiet. I didn’t see any major disruption in the town so it seemed to be a bit better organised this year.”

Neil Ainsworth, owner of the Argyll in Market Place, said that daytime takings suffered although he benefited from other places being closed later in the day.

“There appeared to be less tourist traffic in town and there were certainly fewer people who came to the pub for lunch and dinner, probably due to the road closures,” he said.

“However, the evening was extremely busy and we probably exceeded our normal Sunday takings because we had a lot of people in who were competing in the triathlon or supporting others.”

Christie Hayes, supervisor at the Henley Brew House said business had not been affected.

“Because of where we are, we saw the stream of slow-moving traffic but it didn’t affect our service.”

Hannah Walker, a waitress at the Angel on the Bridge, said the pub was much busier than normal.

“We were really busy all the way through,” she said. “Usually we get busy about 3pm and then it calms down later on but it was busy all day.”

Henley resident Paul Stott said heavy traffic exiting Henley built up along Marlow Road at about 10am. There were queues from Northfield End to as far as Fawley.

“I was astonished and felt incredibly sorry for the people stuck in it,” he said. “I don’t want to be a party pooper about it and I am not against the triathlon at all but there must be better ways of doing things.”

Town and county councillor David Nimmo Smith, who watched part of the cycle and run sections, said he was pleased with how the event was managed.

He said: “There were more motorcycles than there were in previous years and that seemed to work very well.

“There are issues about whether it should be here in the first place and people being blocked up in their houses but it is one day and it ran pretty smoothly.”

He said a marshal at the Lower Assendon turn had been reduced to tears by aggressive and abusive drivers but continued to work.

Town councillor Will Hamilton, who watched competitors cycle along Fair Mile and run across Henley Bridge, said Challenge was “fantastic” event.

“No doubt there will be some moaners but I certainly am in favour of it happening again,” he said. ‘The organisers did all they could to keep it as smooth as possible.”

Henley Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak said: “I would really hope that Just Racing are more forthcoming in coming to the town council and actually talking to us and listening to our comments because the more that we communicate, the better.”

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