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Opinion: Olympic cycling legacy failing to serve London community groups and clubs

Lee Valley Authority accused of favouring commercial organisations over cycling clubs

Yesterday we reported that local cycling clubs were finding it hard to book use of the Olympic legacy facilities at Lee Valley Velopark. These were supposed to be a major aspect of the legacy of the Games: top-quality new facilities in East London that would be available for the community, including cycling facilities to replace the old Eastway circuit. But, says Michael Humphreys of Eastway Users Group, demand from commercial organisations and the attitude of the Lee Valley Park Regional Authority means volunteer and community groups are not getting fair access to the site.

Having got the cycling provision at what’s now Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park protected in planning (2004), then properly planned (2007-2012) and funded, Eastway Users Group and our sister organisations want to be able to use it properly but of course such a capital asset can be worked in many ways apart from grassroots use. It’s this commercial agenda which is causing problems because the targets may be more to do with cash and less with community.

Lee Valley Park Regional Authority’s (LVRPA) view is to forget everything that got them this lovely new Velopark and play hard-ball with the clubs and communities which now want to book the place secured by our campaign. Emails have been going out with expressions of ‘disappointment’ from LVRPA, as if it thinks the natives aren’t grateful enough.

Racing at the former Eastway circuit. It wasn't glamorous, but at least it was accessible. (CC licensed image by matsimpsk/Flickr)

We continue to work through the channels of London government to try and redress the balance in favour of community interests in how the place is run because LVRPA is funded by precept on all London boroughs. For the time being the clubs have had to go in with bookings at the usual tariff to compete for slots with commercial organisations and the LVRPA’s own experimental approach to running pay-as-you-go sessions of its own using paid coaching staff.

This may sound like carping at the new commercial realities by which public facilities have to keep their books in the black, but the entire LVRPA is funded by local authorities and it received the capital asset for free, courtesy of the campaign to protect the cycle sport amenity we enjoyed on Eastway.

Why is community important in cycle sport? Voluntary help offered through club structures is the way that the vast majority of events take place. Development of young riders brings people into the sport as parents and youths and the senior clubs are the backbone of just about all leagues and major events.

A very few top-level competitions are run commercially by promotions companies, but they only take place where there can be commercial and public-sector sponsors or, in the case of spectator events, paying public. These few events aside, nobody makes money from promoting races or running clubs beyond what it takes to keep putting enough into the sport.

The power of voluntary organisations is key to keeping the sport going and expanding.

No ‘home club’ for Lee Valley Velopark

Yet the LVRPA says it wants no clubs to be based at the Velopark and as such it will offer no storage, no meeting spaces and no special provision for voluntary clubs that have to deal with child-protection and welfare issues as well.

No other velodrome in the UK operates without ‘home’ clubs and the Lee Valley Youth CC was formed when the LVRPA previously learned it could not make youth coaching and club sessions pay their way. The youth club brought animation and usage to the facility.

Having spoken with Lee Valley Youth CC committee members, the club has secured a regular session, paying full-rate to be on the track, but it has had to wait till the last minute to have this confirmed — as if the LVRPA was playing the field?

Instead of being among the top priorities for sessions and provision as a key community element, the club - and others like it with which it wants to share the load of organising and coaching - can only be certain of its immediate future by staying at the relocation facility on Hog Hill.

In light of its dilemma and because of its proven animations at Hog Hill, LVYCC has been offered an  extensive support package to stay there by the operator and London Borough of Redbridge.

It seems the LVRPA has been out-bid by Redbridge to retain the community asset of a thriving youth club, but then again, the LVRPA made no offer and seems to place no value on the community element which secured the legacy for cycle sport.

As a campaigner who helped secure the excellent facility at Hog Hill, I can confirm the revenue funding there is now reliant on the borough. thanks to the blinkered ways of public funding, the facility was intended to last only while the Velopark legacy was brought into being.

Hog Hill may not sustain in its present configuration and does not have the funding of wider London that the LVRPA enjoys to operate a facility that is of London-wide and national importance. It was wise of the youth cycling club to ask for a fallback guarantee from LVRPA that it would be able to find a permanent home in the Velopark in the event of a decision to close Hog Hill. This is a reality of financing and facilities which the youth club has had to face, but the answer so far from LVRPA has been a firm ‘no’ to its request for a base at the Velopark now or in the uncertain future.

When you compare the programme for clubs and cycle sport events on the road and off-road circuits with how the Velopark is selling itself to corporates, you very quickly gather the emphasis is on making a resource planned for the community into a playground of those who can pay top-dollar.

There are now three separate contractors selling much the same kind of corporate event in the velodrome - great, but where’s the community in this? The facility was not funded and built by London so that corporates could reward promotions companies with their business.

Where is the programme of road/off-road club and sport events at the Velopark for those who make the grassroots really happen? There is one event we know of which was planned specifically by the circuit’s management to compete with the Eastern Counties Cycling Association Festival weekend, but which failed to secure the event permit being sought from the Eastern region of British Cycling.

That event has had to be scaled-back and reconfigured as a regional 2/3/4 event in conjunction with events in SE and Central regions. Beyond this, the programme of events for your typical sport rider in road, cyclocross or mountain biking is looking painfully non-existent, despite these being the disciplines that thrived on Eastway and which we were able to prove should find a place in legacy.

Take the one example of the Lee Valley Youth CC. Had it been offered the regular slots and club facilities you would reasonably expect in legacy, there is every chance the Velopark would have hosted many youth and senior events as part of the LVYCC’s heavy programme of promotions. But without a solid club base there is too much uncertainty and too high a price to pay for it.  Lesson learned for now:  LVYCC is delighted to be promoting the 2014 national youth circuit championships at Hog Hill.

One wonders what else is being lost while the voluntary aspects of cycle sport and clubs are being frozen out. Eventually it will come back to being volunteers and clubs which pick-up when the commercial operations fail to bring the place alive for sustainable communities to thrive, but the wait is painful for highly organised, qualified and expert voluntary organisations on which the legacy promise was based.

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botoxking | 10 years ago

As a member of one of it not the most local club (Cycling Club Hackney) I am pleased to say that we are going to be having road and track sessions at the Velo Park regularly.

We are expected to pay for the facilities but we are hoping to raise enough in subs that it can be a long-term sustainable relationship with the facility.

Hopefully the corporate side of things will be used to subsidise the local club scene but it is certainly too early to be critical of the way it is being managed. I know that at CCH we are feeling quite optimistic about it all!!

Al__S | 10 years ago

It all goes along with the utter travesty of a street network they've put in, with 80s/90s style "cycle provision". It was a blank slate- they could have built a demonstration of what is possible.

KnightBiker | 10 years ago

''The velodrome is open 12 hours a day''

12 hours per day only? i would figure the demand would make it easy to fill more hours (in wintertime), at the Amsterdam Velodrome Early birds like to start it at 8 on Saturday's, during weekdays late training goes up until 22:00 hours, organised training sometimes lasts until 23:00.

Seems the venue isn't fully utilised.

sean1 replied to KnightBiker | 10 years ago
KnightBiker wrote:

'12 hours per day only? i would figure the demand would make it easy to fill more hours (in wintertime)

The 12 hours is based on the options for the Taster sessions which can show time slots between 9AM and 9PM.

There is no doubt the velodrome is going to have massive demand so maybe the venue will look to open for longer hours. 7AM til 11PM is not unreasonable in a city like London.

It is good to hear clubs are getting regular training sessions arranged. Hopefully over time there will be a good mix of club nights, training sessions and racing leagues on the track.

Taster sessions and corporate events have their place, but a thriving club and racing scene is also needed. I hope the road circuit and MTB circuit are as busy.

trevorparsons | 10 years ago

Cycling Club Hackney has been allotted three regular sessions at the VeloPark starting in April.

sean1 | 10 years ago

Looking at the Lee Valley Park website it states that Corporate Velodrome events are available Thursday and Friday during the day.

The velodrome is open 12 hours a day, 9 til 9, so taking out potentially two days a week of 8 hours is roughly 20% of all available track time. I would not expect the corporate events to fill all the track time on these days (each corporate session is only 90 mins of track time) so the real useage may be nearer the claimed 5%.

For group/club bookings the cost is £200 for 2 hours. So I assume a group of London clubs could block book one or two evenings a week at say £300 for an evening. If you could get 60+ riders then this would be £5 per head. However I would expect local area cycling clubs to be given a reasonable discount, particularly for Young riders.

The Lee Valley website talks about track accreditation but there is no mention of organised racing or leagues. They may be expecting the local clubs and British Cycling to step forward and organise events. If so I am surprised this is not further ahead.

Given that this venue has been planned to open for public use for over 18 months I am surprised at the lack of race planning for this season, on the track, the road or MTB circuits.

When Bath opened it's closed road track last year it was up and running with club training and regular racing straight away.

The British Cycling calendar is strangely lacking any events at all at the Lee Valley Cyclo-Park.

Hopefully it is all being planned and worked out, but other than doing "taster sessions" at £30 (track) to £15 (road) there does not seem to be a lot planned.

SteppenHerring | 10 years ago

To be fair, I think it's a little early to criticize. I sent off a (velodrome) club enquiry form on a Friday evening and had a reply with an offer of a date back on Monday morning. So far my questions have been answered promptly and helpfully.

True they are only letting local clubs book one track session and it's a bit more expensive than Calshot (less than twice the price though), but they are still finding their feet.

Of course I may be cursing them in 6 months time but hey.

levermonkey | 10 years ago

Sad but all so predictable.

"Yes. We're going to take your facilities, but just so we can keep you quiet and everyone can pretend that everything is wonderful, we'll promise you jam tomorrow. [Hope no-one can see we've got our fingers crossed when we promise this]"

Everything about the Olympic park is a lie. Jobs? Regeneration? Athletics legacy?

Even the main stadium is a lie. It's two stadiums, one on top of the other. The original plan was that after the games the top stadium would be removed leaving a 26 000 seater stadium. That all got brushed under the carpet during the construction phase when Watson Steel had to put a line-pull in excess of 2000 tonnes on the hydraulic 'turfers' to close the tension ring. Hence why it was given to football.

If they can't come clean on that do you honestly think they give a rats arse about cycling legacy in Stratford?

Just as a side issue; there is a derelict running track in Southwark Park. Why has no lottery monies been allocated to re-open it? Maybe it could be redeveloped as an open-air velodrome.  19

studentcyclist | 10 years ago

Spot on.

A quick search on the British Cycling website shows one event scheduled for the road circuit for 2014. And that's one stage of a three day 'stage race' for 2nd and 3rd cats costing a whopping £65.

Compare this to the thriving racing at Hog Hill with something happening pretty much every night and an excellent summer series run by ELV.

What a joke

antonio | 10 years ago

The South East spivs taking the rest of the country for a ride, again!

KnightBiker | 10 years ago

Apparently keeping venues' like these open is no cheap feat. it's clear that nobody will get it like they wan't, but there must be ways to please everybody. Having fixed schedules, cutting sessions in to parts of 2 hours at a time, you could fit in a lot of time slots. At the amsterdam Velodrome, which is far less prestigieus, we have schedules that facilitate all whishes up until some degree.

jollygoodvelo | 10 years ago

Even if we take as read the premise that 'the corporates' will take up so much of the operating time at the velodrome and cycling park that clubs can't get the time they'd like... Would I rather have a velodrome at QEOP that is fully booked, fully utilised, and profitable, allowing it to run for years and years holding pro-level events? Or would I rather have it block-booked by clubs, paying less, and have it gradually fall into disrepair?

It was built by John Q Taxpayer, but it won't be run by him. And I doubt the operating costs will be covered by clubs paying £10 per hour.

There's also the question of just how many corporate event sessions will be organised, particularly after the initial 'bump' of it being the new and shiny thing.

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