Something amazing happened at the recent Conservative Party conference. In fact, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the headline – “Rules barring motor races on public roads may be eased”.
What? Where had this come from? Motor racing has never played an important role on the political landscape (except when Bernie Ecclestone donated a million quid to Tony Blair’s Labour Party but we won’t go into that) so what was the thinking behind this? Surely cutting off child benefit to the better paid was more of a hot topic than racing around the streets of the UK?
In many ways, though, it’s an example of a piece of clear thinking intended to get rid of unnecessary layers of bureaucracy. At the moment – and forget about whether you think having noisy, fast cars competing on the streets of towns and cities is a good idea or not – it requires an Act of Parliament to allow such a thing to happen, which is a costly exercise to implement. Instead, the idea is to relax the rules and allow local councils to hold races or festivals on city streets or rural roads. Such events, it is claimed, could generate £40m over five years as well as creating jobs.
Motor racing on the streets of this country is nothing new. In 1902 the very first races (if you define a race as two or more cars running against each other at the same time) took place in Bexhill-on-sea. The resorts of Brighton and Weston-super-mare have also long held speed trails along parts of their seafront.
But it was in 1986 that the first proper round-the-houses race took place in this country when, on a bank holiday Monday deluged by the tail-end of an Atlantic hurricane, Formula 3000 cars battled around the streets of Birmingham of all places. The event continued for a few years but each time required an Act of Parliament in order to allow the road closures to take place.
Britain is far behind other countries which have long enjoyed street races, thereby bringing the sport to the public, rather than the other way round.
The most famous example has to be the Monaco Grand Prix, held annually around the streets of Monte Carlo since 1929 apart from breaks for the war, obviously. France has long had street courses at places like Rheims, where the French Grand Prix used to take place and where the fading grandstands and pits still straddle a long, straight piece of road through the champagne-producing countryside. In the south of the country, the city of Pau still closes its streets each year for an event contested over variously by Formula Three, Formula 3000 and, until last year, World Touring Cars. And then there’s the 24 Hours of Le Mans, half of which is still run on public roads. These events draw huge crowds but it has been nigh-on impossible to hold something similar in this country since Parliament usually has more important topics to debate than motor racing, and rightly so.
To make the change would involve simply ‘tweaking’ a law which dates back to the 1960s and it is this which was discussed at a fringe meeting for the Motor Sports Association (MSA) at the Tory party conference.
The meeting also heard about other initiatives from the MSA to make the sport more accessible to youngsters and how the sport needed to be more robust in selling its virtues, such as improving road safety, engineering and environmental innovations and the fact that it it creates jobs and brings investment to the UK.
But it was the idea to change the legislation in order to make life easier that caught my eye. Whether it be for motor racing or anything else, let’s have more initiatives of this kind.Author's Google+ Page