Cycle race disruption unwelcome says Ongar councillor

Residents in Ongar will be better off each paying “a pound or two” rather than put up with the disruption a major cycling event is set to cause, a town councillor has said.

A second year of RideLondon returns to Essex on Sunday, May 28, with an estimated 25,000 cyclists expected to take part in the 100 or 60 mile challenge rides that will pass through several parts of the county including Ongar.

But faced with the experiences of the inaugural even that took place in May 2022 with more than 22,000 cyclists taking part, people in the town say the disruption is not worth it to them.

Ongar Town Council says the way the town is laid out – with the high street running through the middle as a main artery – many people are unable to leave in their cars for the whole day. Organisers London Marathon Events (LME) say they are on hand for arrangements if people need them.

Councillor Derek Birch, chairman of Ongar Town Council said: “I’m not saying we don’t want it. We don’t want it in it’s present format.

“It blocks off the high street for the whole day and because the majority of roads in Ongar all come off the high street – the high street is the main artery – if you are not out by about 5.30am you can’t get out and even then you can’t back until about 7pm.

“The majority of people who contact me don’t particularly want it because it is restrictive. It’s on a Sunday so the one day they can do what they want, but they can’t get out of their own road.”

The 2023 RideLondon-Essex route enters Essex through Epping Forest, continuing through central Epping, Ongar, Leaden Roding, Great Dunmow, Felsted and Writtle before returning to Ongar and heading back into London.

Organisers say route has been organised to have the least impact on the strategic road network in the county, includes roads wide enough to accommodate both emergency vehicles and cyclists and offers the greatest number of access options for residents.

Cllr Birch added the perception that businesses will benefit form the town being on the route is not correct from experiences last year.

He added: “It’s not as if, as the idea was last year,that people will have Sunday lunch and then ride off again which I was very sceptical about. It didn’t really happen.

“If you are going to go on a bike ride, are you going to pull in somewhere, have Sunday lunch and then carrying on riding on a full stomach?”

As a direct result of the partnership, Essex now benefits from significant funding from the London Marathon Charitable Trust to support physical activity and sport opportunities across the county, and especially to areas along the route. Following the event in May, £1m has been allocated to scale up the Essex Pedal Power initiative to make cycling more inclusive, increase active travel (walking and cycling) opportunities in schools, and power a small grants programme for Essex projects.

So far more than 80 applications have been approved, helping support young people, women and girls, less affluent communities and older residents to get moving in their local area.

Ongar town councillor Simon Cole said the amount of money available to Ongar charities from RideLondon last year was estimated at less than the total the town could have raised if every household contributed just a small amount.

He said: “Quite frankly if they all put in a pound of two it would more than exceed the contributions.”

The cycling festival was held in Essex after a new partnership between London Marathon Events (LME) Limited was formed with Essex County Council – the event was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic – due to the level of opposition to road closures and the level of disruption many residents in Surrey complained about.

That was made following a Surrey County Council public consultation in 2020 which indicated the event should leave Surrey altogether – of the respondents living in Surrey, 49 per cent strongly agreed and 41 per cent strongly disagreed that they wanted the event to continue as it is over the next five years.

Around 60 per cent of Surrey residents participating in the survey strongly agreed they had been directly impacted by the road closures.

But a consultation run by Essex County Council and LME after the event this year will have to conducted again due to low uptake – LME have reappointed an engagement manager to contact all 44 parishes and businesses impacted by the route to gather feedback on the event and the route.

A Ford RideLondon-Essex spokesperson said: “The Ford RideLondon-Essex events that will pass through Ongar on Sunday May 28 will see thousands of people, of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, enjoy the incredible experience of being part of the world’s greatest festival of cycling. Many of these will be riding for charity, helping to raise millions of pounds for good causes.

“We are pleased to be working closely this year with Ongar Town Council, Epping Forest District Council and Essex County Council to build on learnings from last year’s event and to help the people of Ongar welcome the cyclists and the event to the town.

“We want to hear from anyone in Ongar, or anywhere else on or near the route, who has feedback on Ford RideLondon-Essex.

“We held a public drop-in session in Ongar on November 1 where we shared the proposed plans for 2023 and will follow that up with another drop-in session in the coming weeks.

“When the time, date and location of this meeting is confirmed we will publicise this widely and would welcome anyone who would like to see and hear more about the plans to attend.

“We would also urge people to visit the Community Info page on the ridelondon.co.uk website where you can also find details on how to contact us.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter