Controversial plans by Olympic Games organisers LOCOG to charge spectators to watch this summer’s road races from the vantage point of Box Hill have apparently been confirmed by a newsletter sent out earlier this month by Surrey County Council to local residents and businesses. Meanwhile, Environment Minister Richard Benyon has hailed the benefits that the event will bring to local fauna and flora.
Scrubland has already been cleared at the National Trust-owned beauty spot in anticipation of the arrival of up to 15,000 fans to watch the likes of Mark Cavendish and Lizzie Armitstead go for gold this July, with Zig-Zag Road, tackled nine times in the men’s event and twice in the women’s one, expected to have a big influence on each race.
Initially, the National Trust had sought to impose even greater restrictions on the number of fans permitted into the enclosures at the Site of Special Scientific Interest – just 3,400 were permitted to watch last August’s test event there.
While spectators were allowed into the enclosure free for that event, followig its announcement earlier this year that it was to increase the capacity for the Olympics, LOCOG said that it was considering charging fans at the Games, a proposal that was criticised by British Cycling, among others.
Although no official details have yet been announced, the fact that will indeed be the case for the men’s race on 28 July and the women’s event 24 hours later appears to have been confirmed in a newsletter sent to local residents and businesses by Surrey County Council’s Go Surrey team earlier this month.
Outlining details of road closures, parking restrictions and other arrangements associated with the events, the newsletter continued: “Spectators will have the chance to purchase tickets to watch the event on the Zig Zag Road incline and Donkey Green on Box Hill."
It added: "The rest of the Box Hill loop is free for spectators to view,"
Notwithstanding the controversy over charging for tickets, it is expected that the work will have long-term benefits for the biodiversity of the area, which is home to rare species of orchid and butterflies.
Mr Benyon, who visited Box Hill yesterday to open an information centre about the road races, was quoted by Eagle Radio as saying: "The Olympics is going to leave a fantastic legacy at Box Hill. I've seen today that the habitats along the cycling route will not only be protected but the biodiversity of the area enhanced, benefiting wildlife and the local communities for years to come.”
Earlier this year, Andy Wright, National Trust Countryside Manager for Box Hill, had outlined the benefits that the work associated with the Olympics would bring to the natural habitat at the location, saying: "It's great news that so many people will be able to enjoy the races in this wonderful natural setting, but it's also great news for the rare wildlife here.
"Since traditional farming ceased in the 1930s, woodland has been encroaching onto the grassland at Box Hill and we've been battling to keep it back,” he continued.
"The surveys conducted by LOCOG are the most thorough ever carried out on this site and they have really helped us understand the best way to manage the habitat for the long term.
"The scrub alongside the road had very few species living in it, so in the areas where it has been removed are not so sensitive to people walking on them.
"Gradually over the years this land will turn back into chalk grassland which is a much richer habitat - supporting around 60 to 100 species of plants, animals and insects per square metre," he added.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.