With little more than a fortnight to go until the inaugural edition of the closed road sportive Velo South in West Sussex on 23 September, some locals opposed to the event are launching a legal challenge to try to stop it from taking place as well as a “walking protest” on the day.
The event will see 15,000 cyclists tackle a 100-mile route through the county, but the West Sussex County Times reports that solicitors acting on behalf of a group of local residents have delivered a pre-action letter to West Sussex County Council (WSCC).
The action is being taken by residents who are concerned that road closures associated with the event will prevent them being able to use their cars on the day and will also affect local businesses.
The solicitors’ letter includes “an urgent application for interim relief prohibiting the event from taking place, pending the final determination of the proceedings.”
The letter adds: “As such, any additional costs incurred by either WSCC or CSM towards the preparation of the event is now entirely at your own risk.”
A spokesman for West Sussex County Council, quoted in the newspaper, said: “On Friday, August 31, the county council received a letter from lawyers instructed by five residents.
“The letter makes a number of claims on behalf of those individuals about the procedure and arrangements for enabling road closures in connection with the proposed Velo South cycle event.
“The county council will, in accordance with the formal process in which the letter has been sent, consider its content and provide a full response to the lawyers as required.
“Given that such a formal legal process has now been commenced it will not be appropriate for the council to comment further on the letter at this stage.”
A website, Stop Velo South, encourages people to download and deliver letters outlining objections to the event to deliver to their neighbours, to put posters in their windows and to take part in a “walking protest.”
The website says that “A safe and legal walking protest has been registered with West Sussex Police.
“A walking protest is planned on the day which will be peaceful, legal and within our statutory rights.
“We encourage you to speak with your feet and walk with us.
“Exact details will be published nearer the event,” it adds.
Chris Matthews, one of the organisers of Stop Velo South, claims that the group now has more than 3,000 members.
Last week, he told the Midhurst and Petworth Observer: “The thing that surprised us is you’d expect fatigue would set in, that people would become more resigned to the event happening, but people are getting angrier as the day approaches because more and more people are discovering that it’s going to happen.”
Velo South is run by CSM Events, and a spokesman for the company told Spirit FM: "We are working closely with our partners West Sussex County Council, Chichester and Horsham District Councils and Parish Councils to deliver an event we hope will raise substantial amounts for charity and boost health, tourism and the economy within the West Sussex region.
“Over 162,000 leaflets have been distributed to residents and businesses across the whole route since February and numerous ‘roadshows’ have been held to communicate details about the event and the necessary road closures.
“We will assist residents or businesses that are affected wherever possible," he continued. "Should residents or businesses along the Velo South route have any specific concerns about access during the day they are encouraged to email route [at] velosouth.com.
The spokesman added: “Emergency services representatives have been involved in the entire Velo South planning process and services responding to any kind of emergency will be facilitated by the organisers, managed from the Event Control Room in partnership with emergency service representatives.”
CSM Events also organised last year’s Velo Birmingham which encountered similar protests.
Tacks and oil were spread on the route of the event last September, although it received an overwhelmingly positive reception and not just from particpants.
Rachel Farrow, who lives in the Worcestershire village of Little Witley, told road.cc that prior to Velo Birmingham, “the local press seemed to be on a mission to stoke the negative feelings with a rather anti cycling agenda.”
But she said that it had “generated a real buzz in our community,” that her children had been able to ride their bikes through their home village “which just isn’t possible usually due to the traffic that comes in off the main road.”
She added that while road closures meant taking a detour while travelling by car to a christening on the day of the event, “really it wasn’t that much hassle.”
It had been planned for Velo Birmingham to return for this year, but in February organisers said that it would instead be postponed until 2019 with a new route.
We have asked CSM Events for their reaction to thee protests against Velo South.
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.