… Road Ahead Clear for ‘Closed Roads’ …
Last Friday the Motor Sports Association of England, Wales and Northern Ireland issued a Press Release claiming success in their long running campaign to introduce the necessary legislation to permit Closed Public Road motorsports events in England and Wales. Working with the British government they have secured the necessary parliamentary legal authority to greatly ease the process of applying for the necessary Act to close sections of public road for a limited period to host timed motor sporting competitions.
Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man already have such legislation in place, although Scottish attempts which were well underway until two years back, have currently stalled due to the lack of political will in the face of an imminent FAI.
The MSA has every right to feel pleased, but in a long roll call of names expressing gratitude for their support, there was one notable omission.
In case you didn’t know, the RAC MSA (as it then was) first took a serious interest in Closed Public Roads for motorsport use way back in the early 1970s. Ron and Betty Charlton had introduced the concept on the 1973 Jim Clark Rally when several sections of public highway were closed to the public – and open to rally competitors. However, this was an expensive and time consuming legal enterprise which confounded any early universal adoption of such an idea.
The RAC MSA then looked into the idea of introducing Closed Road stages for the RAC Rally of Great Britain, but that stalled too due to the complexity and difficulties encountered.
But it was changes in the law in the mid 1980s with regard to what was then called ‘Navigational Rallying’ which threatened the very future of the sport. A number of events had introduced some innovative and imaginative ideas on ‘timing’ for navigational rallies which added an element of speed. That was followed by a brief and worrisome period of ‘Selective’ rallying which was ultimately frowned upon by those in authority and stopped in its tracks. Navigational rallying hasn’t really recovered from that, hence the reliance on private land (Forestry Commission) Special Stage events and renewed interest in pursuing the necessary Government consent to re-look at the Closed Roads issue.
Around this time, there was another flurry of interest in the Closed Roads idea. Birmingham City Council championed an Act of Parliament to suspend the Road Traffic Act for a two and half mile street circuit around Birmingham city centre. The Birmingham Superprix for racing and touring cars first ran in 1986, but ceased in 1990. Another opportunity missed.
Meanwhile another resilient and determined individual was beavering away behind the scenes. The new laws governing Road Rallying were having an impact on a rather unique event in the far north. The Tour of Mull Rally was under threat. First run in 1969, this annual navigational rally on the Island of Mull was the brainchild of Brian Molyneux. He had the enthusiastic backing of a team from Lancashire based 2300 Club and sought ways to ensure a secure future for this event. He also had tremendous support from the good people of Mull itself.
Over a period of three years, a plan was prepared, support sought and funds generated to finance the necessary Act of Parliament which would allow Closed Road rallying on Mull. The first such event ran in 1990, and the rest as they say is history. What that bland statistic does not reflect is the sheer effort and time spent by Brian on overseeing this project, although it has to be said, there were times when the MSA could have been more helpful. Some cynics might be forgiven for thinking that there was a bit of ‘green cheese’ here with the sport’s governing body being a bit miffed that an amateur club with a quiet and charismatic leader had achieved something which had eluded them.
This success was then used as a precedent by Berwick & Distict and Border Ecosse Car Clubs to apply for a similar Act of Parliament to make the Jim Clark Memorial Rally a Closed Public road event in 1997. Sadly, the tragic accident which occurred in 2014 has postponed a return to the roads in the Scottish Borders.
And whilst the MSA can feel justifiably pleased with the result of their efforts, there are many others who think the real trailblazer was the kind, modest, unassuming, inspirational, and yet tenaciously stubborn, Brian Molyneux.
The full text of the MSA’s Press Release (Friday, April 7, 2017) is here below:
– MSA achieves closed-road motorsport for mainland Britain –
In one of the biggest developments in the history of UK motorsport, the Motor Sports Association’s long campaign to bring closed-road events to mainland Britain has been successful, with the enabling legislation commencing on Monday (10 April).
Since 2010 the MSA has called for a change in the law to allow local authorities to suspend the Road Traffic Act for authorised motorsport events, without requiring individual Acts of Parliament.
Independent research commissioned by the MSA and conducted by the Sport Research Institute at Sheffield Hallam University showed that local communities across Britain could generate up to £40m of additional revenue by closing roads to host a limited number of motorsport events.
Primary legislation providing the framework for closed-road motorsport was passed in the 2015 Deregulation Act. The MSA has since worked closely with the Department for Transport (DfT) on the secondary legislation required to make this framework available to event organisers. This comprises an impact assessment with the commencement order.
The commencement order names the MSA and its sister governing body for two-wheel UK motorsport, the Auto-Cycle Union (ACU), as the two authorising bodies for closed-road motorsport events from 10 April onward.
Rob Jones, MSA Chief Executive, said: “This is a seismic shift for UK motorsport, and one that the MSA and the wider motorsport community have pursued determinedly for many years. We can now take motorsport to the people, and in turn those local hosting communities have the opportunity to benefit from the economic boost that these events may provide.
“Many people have contributed to this long campaign and we must first give special mention to my predecessor as MSA Chief Executive, Colin Hilton, for starting down this road seven years ago. Thanks also to our former Director of Communications, Ben Taylor, for his relentless lobbying, and to our Rallies Executive, Ian Davis, for his invaluable contribution to the required legislation. We owe a further debt of gratitude to Ken Clarke MP and Ben Wallace MP and for their tireless support in Westminster.”
Andrew Jones MP, Transport Minister, said: “Britain is a world leader in the motorsport industry and this will further cement our position. There are already races of this kind in some areas of the British Isles which are incredibly popular, attracting thousands of spectators. New road races will boost local economies through increased tourism and hospitality, and offer community opportunities such as volunteering.”
Among those welcoming the news was the all-electric FIA Formula E Championship, which stages events in capital cities across the globe. It said: “The FIA Formula E Championship warmly welcomes the news that the UK’s Road Traffic Act has been amended, permitting the closure of roads and allowing for the possibility of regulated motor racing on closed highways.
“We recognise the key role that the MSA, and its Chief Executive Rob Jones, have played in making this happen. This move considerably helps the prospect of the London ePrix returning to the streets of the British capital.”
Nigel Mansell CBE, 1992 F1 world champion, was equally enthusiastic. He said: “I have seen first-hand the very significant impact of motor sport on the economy of the Isle of Man and Jersey, so this is a great move forward for the sport and will bring visitors and pride to parts of the country that wish to stage such events. I am delighted that this government is embracing motorsport, which will assist the UK’s world-leading position and improve the sport’s ability to help provide opportunities and focus for young people.”
Meanwhile Tendring District Council (in Essexshire – Ed.) has been in discussions about the possibility of bringing an event to the District. Tanya Ferguson, TDC’s Cabinet Member for Tourism and Culture, said: “There is no doubt at all that hosting such an exciting event would be a massive draw and bring people into our area to boost the economy. Our talks are at a very early stage but we are very interested in the prospect and hope that the idea can be developed with Tendring.”