2014 is here and it’s set to be quite a year for the city and region. As Leeds prepares for its role in this year’s Tour de France, we take a deeper look at the effect, good and bad, that welcoming the showpiece event to the city will have.
It’s been a British domination for the past two years. After 98 years of travails that ended in constant despair, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome have taken the Yellow jersey to the finish line and both in considerable style.
And the British influence is not set to end with Froome’s under-appreciated victory in 2013. After the stratospheric progression of Leeds in the past few years, it now holds its own as a city where things happen. Big things. With that comes Le Grand Depart of the 101st Tour de France on 5th July 2013.
The Big Event
Starting outside Leeds Town hall, it will traverse through towns and villages West, North and South Yorkshire over the course of two stages, and two days, before heading south to Cambridge and London and then on to France.
It’s undeniable that being able to fire the starting pistol for the Tour de France in Leeds is a huge coup for the city and region, and something that only a few places outside of L’Hexagone get to, and are able, to do.
But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s about to raise some important issues as to whether we can ensure that it goes off without issue and without having a worrying knock on effect in other areas.
The M Word
The issue that gets folk angry is always money. Why? Because it matters. A few people have lots of it. Lots of people have little of it. And there are a heck of a lot of people in the middle.
So when it comes to putting on big events that play to the outside as much (if not more) than the local, residents need to be reassured that however much it does cost, it’s not going be held up like a dead albatross around the neck of the city for years to come.
A government grant of around £10 million is off-setting a bulk of the believed £21 million cost, with the rest being split between local – £3.6 million from Leeds City Council – which will take up much of the whole Yorkshire region and sponsorship deals, of which there are plenty.
We could argue all day what that money could be spent on, there are plenty of worthy causes, but perhaps that misses the point of the prestige and recognition – it’s the knock-on effect that this kind of investment can have in the region that we should try to examine.
In 2007, Kent and London hosted the Grand Depart and the economic boost it’s believed to have provided the local economies totaled nearly £88 million. Seven years later, particularly with added British success in recent times, it is expected to have a much bigger impact.
Why? Well, the focus on the Yorkshire aspect of the 2014 Tour de France is aiming to hit as many of the glorious tourist hotspots in the region as possible. Be it the cultural attractions at the heart of Leeds, the eye-catching Skipton Castle and Harewood House or perhaps the picturesque scenery of the Dales, there’s a real concentrated effort on the route to show off the best of Yorkshire.
In turn, this should help increase the profiles of these areas, and also the footfall, meaning that as busy as these places would naturally be at this time of the year, it’s taken to another level. They become must-visits, part of the whole Yorkshire Grand Depart experience.
The key aspect from a local interest perspective is how this continues long after the cyclists have packed up their cycles and the special coloured jerseys have all been handed out on the Champs-Elyssee come 27th July 2014.
At Leeds-List, we have spent a lot of time looking at how Leeds has grown as a city and Yorkshire as a whole has a reputation that shows no signs of diminishing. Quite the opposite, in fact. And it seems that the various accolades that have been picked up – as Leeds has become the UK’s fifth most vibrant city and Yorkshire has been honoured with Lonely Planet’s third best World Region and Europe’s Leading Destination by the World Travel Awards – are indicative of the fact that Leeds and beyond are stepping out of the shadows of the neighbouring metropolises.
The awarding, and hopefully, the execution of this year’s Tour de France Le Grand Depart in Leeds should, much like the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, make the rest of the country and beyond sit up and take note of a thriving, forward-thinking city that has come out of one of the toughest times in the country’s recent history and used it as a catalyst for growth.
Therefore, anything that Leeds does display to the world needs to be of benefit to the city and its people for a longer time than a mere few days. It needs to boost the economy, of course, but if done well, it should also help Leeds become a go-to place for events and awards that in turn boost visitor numbers and prestige.
For many though, particularly people who live and work in the area, the worst thing that can happen is for something to rock up in your area and make mincemeat out of major transport routes. Whilst £400,000 (and possibly more) has been dedicated to improving highways that are specific to the route of the race. But if traffic piles up, roads become jammed and travelling around the city and the suburbs becomes difficult, then it’s not the people coming in you have to worry about. It will be the people on the Grand Depart’s doorstep. Those who make the city what it is can’t be left behind as an afterthought to pound signs and fully booked B&Bs.
Should it cause carnage then the aftermath won’t be pretty, but it wouldn’t be fair to predict whether it will or will not happen. For Leeds City Council and those who are affiliated with the event, such as Welcome to Yorkshire, locals have to be as much of a priority as tourists.
Everyone could be a winner
For now, we should look forward to July when the city comes to a halt for a truly unique and one-off event in Leeds’ history. The intended impact from a sporting perspective is coming into action with initiatives like gocycling already having an impact on the numbers who forego petrol chugging vehicles for something more environmentally friendly and healthy.
In preparation why not get on your bike and explore the region to see exactly why Yorkshire is such an attractive proposition for an event like Tour de France? When you live in such a picturesque place, sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees when it comes to appreciating it.
And when July comes around, get to the roadside and support those who push their body to the extremes in search of cycling glory. Who knows, a third British winner and a boost to Leeds and Yorkshire could come out of it. If so, everyone’s a winner.