Save for the odd ripple of unrest, the negative speculation that tends to precede expensive and logistically complex sports events has not yet arisen in Yorkshire.
And so its preparations for the Grand Départ – the biggest sporting event in the county’s history – is hurtling on seemingly as smoothly as a bicycle tyre on asphalt.
When Manchester had the audacity to bring the Commonwealth Games to northern England, a red top report exposed serious security flaws in the main stadium. Al-Qaeda would have a field day, the tabloid crowed. But fears were fortunately unfounded. London’s Olympic run up, under a more intense media glare, was dogged by talk of white elephants, traffic chaos, spiralling costs and a potentially embarrassing inability to put on a show.
But history put most, if not all, of those worries to bed. Yorkshire’s two days in the sun may not be on the same scale, but the sheer level of global interest and pressure to succeed should not be underestimated. And under the rising heat of the world’s spotlight, it is so far putting in an assured performance.
“Many businesses and cities have already had a big boost,” Welcome to Yorkshire’s Gary Verity told TV audiences recently from his Wensleydale home.
“The benefit to Yorkshire will happen in a number of years following the tour leaving and I hope it has the same impact attitudinally that the Commonwealth Games had in Manchester; that actually in Yorkshire anything’s possible,” he added.
And, as reported later in this publication, the long term legacy might include a new lucrative era of political conferencing in Leeds. The ability to put a city on lockdown, as they
say in the States, would prove that security-dependent events like party political gatherings are possible.
Meanwhile, the inevitable pre-event talk of rising costs has started. In mid-March the press published details of a ‘damning report’, as one newspaper put it, which showed a £2m underestimation in the cost of managing and marshalling the Tour. It stemmed from a report prepared by Leeds City Council and TdF Hub 2014 Ltd, the company coordinating the organisation of the opening three days of the race. A contract to provide barriers, communications, first aid and other aspects of the event was recommended to go to Manchester-based WGR. But its value shown in the report was £4.5m, not the originally budgeted £2.2m.
TdF Hub is headed up by former Rugby Football League boss Sir Rodney Walker. He told the BBC he could “absolutely guarantee” the total amount of the WGR contract would not be £4.5m, as it was a worst-case scenario figure and savings had already been identified.
“We’re confident we’re going to deliver not only the largest event Yorkshire has ever staged, but we’re going to deliver it on budget,” he said.
“This is a free event that could attract three million people for the two Yorkshire stages alone – I challenge you to find better value for money than that.”
Such issues are par for the course for mass event organisers, as a Leeds City Council spokeswoman told reporters: “As with any project on the scale of the Tour de France, it is entirely normal to experience changes in budget requirements. We anticipate that with continuing prudent financial management...an event to remember will be delivered within the original budget.”
And, for that underestimation has come another more positive one. While the economic value of the Tour has been estimated at around £100m, visitor numbers are proving a tricky metric to forecast.
As one local councillor put it at a recent Welcome to Yorkshire visit to Silsden, “the original figures were grossly underestimated”, considering the amount of extra people heading to Yorkshire from within the UK.
For businesses, then, time is running out to secure what Tour-related riches may be accessible to them.
Help is in abundance though. Barclays recently announced it had joined forces with Welcome to Yorkshire to support businesses in the run up to the race.
The bank’s lending team has been hosting a series of roadshows across the region to discuss its lending proposals before the event, as well as the impact on economic growth following the race.
Caroline Pullich, head of business banking in Yorkshire and the North East, says: “This is a fabulous chance for growth within the Yorkshire economy and we now have a dedicated team in place to help shape lending propositions for businesses that seek to invest for the future and take advantage of the long term benefits the race will bring and the legacy it will leave.”
Among other various business flavoured events and workshops announced as part of the Grand Départ is the Yorkshire International Business Festival.
Organised by UKTI, Welcome to Yorkshire, and Leeds and Partners and taking place between 2 and 4 July, its aim is to help generate £20m of new business directly from the race. Opportunities in a range of sectors are promised.
Increased foreign investment, it is hoped, will come as a result of the Tour. At the recent MIPIM 2014 international property investment event in Cannes, for example, investment opportunities in Yorkshire were showcased to high rollers on the Continent. Leeds Bradford Airport has also been in discussions over bringing new French routes to Yorkshire.
Quoted recently, Roger Marsh, chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (The LEP), said: “The economic impact of the Grand Départ, through increased visitors and the general spending uplift is significant.
However, we see the Tour as the beginning of a wider opportunity. It will allow us to showcase the opportunities in the region to an international audience and clearly demonstrate our capability in hosting high profile, big ticket events.”
Private sector businesses are also themselves hosting events to cash in on the sporting milestone – commercially and charitably.
‘Sweatworking’ is the phrase coined by national property consultancy Carter Jonas for its Tour inspired activities. It is currently looking to sign up cycling enthusiasts from within the property sector and its related disciplines for a Lycra-clad networking session on two wheels.
Its Yorkshire Pedalthon will raise funds for Yorkshire Air Ambulance and public transport charity Sustrans but also provide an unusual platform for business chatter.
David Boulton (pictured on p8), partner in the planning and development division (Harrogate), says the event has provided Carter Jonas with an opportunity to forge stronger ties with clients and fellow professionals in the property-related field. Alongside the clear philanthropic benefits of the event, it will also be used to show off investment opportunities in Yorkshire to developers.
He says: “We felt there was an opportunity to sell what we do and sell what Yorkshire does to a wider audience and equally consolidate our business relationships along the way.
“We are also involved in properties in those areas that the Tour passes through and so we thought it would be useful to show our clients that may have an interest. It’s not just putting Lycra on and traipsing through the hills, it’s about having an experience of what Yorkshire can offer in a wider sense as well really.
“Looking at the 200 or so riders we’ve got signed up, we’ve got people from across the country from various fields including architects, surveyors and a broad range of other property sector people.” The event, which remains open for applicants, is on Thursday 22 May, and riders will have the choice to complete either the 80 mile Yorkshire Challenge or the 40 mile Yorkshire Scenic route. Both finish at Ripley Castle in North Yorkshire after passing through the market town of Masham where the Yorkshire Challenge riders will branch off and head into the Yorkshire Dales to attempt a steep climb to the top of Kidstones Pass.
Commercial law firm Lupton Fawcett Denison Till has also launched its own Yorkshire Classic cycling event as part of its sponsorship of the Grand Depart. The race, which will raise money for SportsAid, takes place on Thursday 1 May and will see 30 teams of four riders cover 67 miles of gentle routes and steep climbs before finishing at Ilkley Rugby Club.
Managing director Richard Marshall says: “The Yorkshire Classic is our inaugural Yorkshire Grand Départ sporting event, which we hope will be an annual lasting legacy
from the Tour.”