OnTheWight always welcomes a Letter to the Editor to share with our readers – unsurprisingly they don’t always reflect the views of this publication. If you have something you’d like to share, get in touch and of course, your considered comments are welcome below.
This from Thomas Cowley, Ningwood, Ed
I notice that the proposed Isle of Wight Road Races will not go ahead this year. I also notice that the comments sections, particularly on Facebook, are rife with cries of “corruption!”.
Whilst it grieves me to defend, in any way, the current Isle of Wight Council Conservative elected members, given my understanding of motor sport and the requirements to host Dave’s “grand vanity project”, it is important to understand why this road race cannot take place this year.
This will make it clear why there is no conspiracy to stop the event. In my view, the incompetence of the organisers has stopped it taking place.
Conspiracy or incompetence?
To mis-quote Hanlon’s razor, we should never ascribe to conspiracy, that which can be clearly a result of incompetence.
To understand why this event will not take place in 2021, we need to run a perilously dull circuit around the legislation that allows closed road motor sport. This knowledge seems to be something lacking in the crowd who are crying “corruption!” and building a Dave Stewart-shaped wicker man in the comments sections.
So, grab lots of coffee and let’s explore why this event isn’t taking place (Covid doesn’t even get a look-in!).
Gaining a permit
The 1988 Road Traffic Act was modified in 2017 to allow closed road motor sport to take place in England without an Act of Parliament. The cost and administration associated with passing an Act for every event that would run on closed roads meant that it was not feasible for virtually any type of closed road motor sport to take place in England, so very little did.
The following process replaced the need for an Act:
A licensed club, or company applies for a permit to the governing body for the type of event they wish to run. In the main, this is Motor Sport UK, for four-wheeled vehicles and the Auto Cycle Union, for motorbikes.
Before issuing a permit, the motor sport governing body (not the club, or company applying for the permit) must consult
- the highway authority
- the local authority for each such area
- the police authority for each such area
- each person who has given the motor sport governing body written notice within the previous 12 months that the person wishes to be consulted about applications under this section
- such other persons as the motor sport governing body thinks appropriate (that would be Natural England, The National Trust, the IWC AONB unit and probably various others)
‘In principle’ support from Conservatives
Only once this consultation is complete can the motor sport governing body issue a permit for the event. Although there appear to be no minutes to support the support of the Isle of Wight Council, it is widely understood there was ‘support in principle’ for the event.
This makes sense as Dave Stewart has gone to press with many positive comments about bringing motorbike road races to the Isle of Wight.
Once the event organiser has a permit from the motor sport governing body, they can then approach the Isle of Wight Council Safety Advisory Group (SAG), with details of the motor sport event and surrounding festivities.
Meeting of the Safety Group
At this point the SAG meets. Those concerned about corruption would do well to note that no elected councillors are involved with the SAG. The SAG only makes recommendations to the IWC, it is not a decision-making body, but it is extremely unlikely that the councillors would go against the recommendation of the SAG, as it includes the following:
- Chair (from the Local Authority Licensing Team)
- Licensing staff
- Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary
- Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service
- Isle of Wight NHS PCT
- Environmental Health Department
- Building Control
- Emergency Management
- Highways Authority
Representatives from other services or bodies may be invited to meetings where required.
Motor Race Order
Only once the SAG has reviewed the full event plans and the permit and made a recommendation to the Isle of Wight Council, are the councillors in a position to issue a Motor Race Order.
One final thing: according to English law, the Motor Race Order, which enables the roads to be closed must be issued no less than six months before the event is due to take place.
This gives a drop-dead date for the IWC to issue a Motor Race Order, of about 20th April 2021.
Lots of moving pieces
Hopefully the details above are reasonably clear. There are quite a lot of moving pieces.
For reference, the organisers of Coventry Motofest worked for five years to get those pieces in place, before they could run a mile long sprint, on a ring road, in that event.
Attending Shalfleet Parish Council
On 14th April Gary Thompson, a director of the Auto Cycle Union Limited (the motor sport governing body, for motorbikes), spoke at Shalfleet Parish Council, on behalf of ACU Events Limited (the commercial company proposing to run the race).
He was joined by Tim Addison, representing APL Events, who was replacing Rob da Bank, who, at short notice, couldn’t make the meeting.
Gary explained that the organisers had had an initial meeting with the SAG on 12th April. This sounded more like a ‘coffee and a Danish’ type of chat, rather than the in-depth discussion that was due to take place on 19th April.
No planning permission
During the parish council meeting, the council members identified that the track needed engineering works, to install a slip-road for motorbikes to leave the track, on Tapnell straight. Gary explained this was due to the speed difference between bikes coming off the track and those going round for another lap.
No planning permission had been sought and Gary seemed quite surprised to learn an application and granting of permission would be needed.
No consultation with Natural England
The parish council also discussed with Gary that Natural England would need to be consulted and that calls made to Natural England by the council revealed no consultation had taken place.
How would spectators come and go?
Gary and Tim were also questioned on how the 15-20,000 spectators would be coming and going from Tapnell Farm during the day, when the Middle Road would be closed and being used as a race track.
Gary and Tim didn’t have any answer to that question. They said they would have to come back to the parish council in a couple of weeks with more answers.
Six days before deadline
This meeting was six days before the deadline for the SAG to recommend the IWC councillors issue a Motor Race Order.
There were a number of key questions unanswered as part of the consultation with the parish council (with whom the ACU must consult, by law) and Gary admitted no permit had been issued by the ACU at that point, it is my assumption that the event organisers simply ran out of time to cover off their statutory duties before the deadline.
No corruption was needed
No corruption was needed to stop this event taking place. It seems to me the organisers started too late, working with ACU Events Limited, who don’t seem to me to be terribly well versed in English law (but know Isle of Man law very well) to get everything in place, in time to run the event.
The commenters who have cried “corruption” have (as is often the case) failed to provide any details of the alleged corruption.
Damage credibility of other event organisers
The problem with unfounded accusations of corruption is that, as well as potentially libeling the councillors in question, they damage the credibility of events on which organisers have completed their statutory duties.
Instead, the accusers claim groundlessly that those event organisers must have ‘greased the right palms’.
Laughable suggestions of Machiavellian scheming
Although there have been many well-founded claims of cronyism/corruption in Conservative central government over the past 15 months, suggesting that level of Machiavellian scheming by those on the Isle of Wight, who are unable to even make a brand new, simple, chain ferry run reliably, is laughable.
This is especially true when you take into account the deadlines the organisers (who seem to display similar levels of ineptitude to the Isle of Wight Council) have been working with.
Calling “corruption!” without the facts
It is, however, far easier to shout “corruption!” and smear competent local event organisers, working on the Isle of Wight, without understanding the process to approve such a large race, or festival.
I’m sure many people would welcome evidence of this alleged corruption, in the run up to local elections – it would make the job of the opposition much, much easier.
Image: © Google Maps/Streetview