The Mountbatten Centre’s cycle track was closed in March 2014 after Richard Phillips-Schofield died following a crash during a race. Despite repeated calls from the cycling community to reopen it since then, the track has remained closed and it seems there are few signs that this is likely to change any time soon.
Local cycling coach, David Gwilliam, started an online petition to get the track reopened in June of last year and this has so far attracted over 500 signatures.
Speaking at the time, he told the Portsmouth News that while an inquiry was needed into Phillips-Schofield’s death, stopping all coaching activities was an extreme and counterproductive measure. “The track is a traffic-free environment and is probably one of the safest areas that we could do any coaching. But now they’re doing it in car parks and even on the road, which is not very safe.”
Jon Spencer of Portsmouth Cycle Forum agrees. Writing on the group’s website, he said:
“After initial closure for racing only, British Cycling, PCC and Parkwood Leisure then banned all cycling at the track, including leisure riding and coaching. This blanket ban affects adults and children and makes no distinction between coaching and racing, even though these two activities are a world apart.
“This has resulted in the hundreds of children a week who were learning to ride their bikes there, safely in a traffic-free environment, being forced elsewhere and onto Portsmouth roads. Many have just given up riding their bikes altogether. This, no doubt, will impact upon the city’s traffic volumes and obesity statistics in the coming years.”
John Millard, communications officer at Portsmouth council said it was down to Parkwood to decide when the track would reopen. "The council owns Mountbatten Leisure Centre but doesn't operate it. The decision to close the track was made by the operator, Parkwood Community Leisure, and the decision to reopen it is one for Parkwood too."
A spokesperson for Parkwood said simply: "We are not prepared to make any comment at this time."
Nor, it seems, are British Cycling. We failed to get any response from regional development manager, Mark Adams, nor the organisation’s press office.
Spencer points out that several Olympians and World Champions, including Dani King and Rob Hayles, learned their cycling at the 115-year-old track and says it is not just Portsmouth that is suffering as a result of its closure.
“Local coaches, riders and racers have been left with a facility lying idle and a huge hole in the cycle skills teaching and racing activity in the area. This has extended far wider than just Portsmouth, and has been to the detriment of all in Hampshire and wider counties.”
Shortly after Gwilliam launched his petition, Councillor Robert New responded by saying he would do everything he could to resolve the matter, adding that he would keep the public apprised of progress. However, the petition has remained open and Portsmouth Cycle Forum are again encouraging people to sign.
Spencer says that the leader of Portsmouth City Council, Donna Jones, has recently agreed to meet and discuss reopening the track and adds that Portsmouth North MP, Penny Mordaunt, has given her support following a meeting with coaches.