Consultation reveals vast support for Road Closing Order changes

Mervyn Whyte
Mervyn Whyte

Legislative changes to provide road race organisers with greater flexibility to reschedule race-days and practices have moved a step closer.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy has indicated that a public consultation on the issue revealed widespread support for the changes.

The North West 200 and the Ulster Grand Prix have both suffered wash-outs in recent years because of poor weather.

It is hoped that the new arrangements will be in place for the 2014 season.

The changes would mean that organisers of two-wheel and four-wheel motorsport events in Northern Ireland could change the date of their event at short notice in the instance of extreme weather conditions being forecast.

Changes to the existing legislation to allow road race organisers more flexibility in the running of their events move a step closer.

The 2011 and 2013 North West 200 races were negatively impacted by poor weather, as was the Ulster Grand Prix in 2007 and 2008.

The new arrangements would also apply to national road races such as Armoy, the Mid Antrim 150, the Cookstown 100, Bush and Tandragee 100.

It is understood that the move would allow more flexibility in the application of existing Road Closing Orders, rather than additional orders being issued.

"Results from a public consultation on the subject have overwhelmingly supported changing the existing legislation to provide race organisers with some flexibility to change the date of their race day or practice sessions where they might otherwise have to be cancelled due to bad weather," read a statement released by the Minister of Regional Development.

"Events like the North West 200, Ulster Grand Prix Week and Circuit of Ireland have an enormous following both locally and internationally and they attract tens of thousands of visitors to Northern Ireland every year.

"These events and many other similar motor sport meetings are weather dependant. Following the cancellation of the North West 200 in May this year, the second time in three years it has been cancelled due to bad weather, I made a firm undertaking to all road race organisers that I would examine the situation and work to provide a solution in time for the 2014 season."

The Minister intends to seek Executive approval to progress the Bill quickly through the Assembly.

While emphasising that the vast majority of people who responded to the consultation were in favour of the changes, the Minister indicated that a number had raised objections to road racing on a Sunday.

"I fully understand the views put forward by some objecting to any road racing on a Sunday but the existing Road Races (NI) Order 1986 does not preclude Sunday racing, so the Bill does not seek to break any existing prohibition.

"It is for race promoters to decide whether they wish to race on a Sunday and to make the necessary application to the Department.

"However, I would reassure everyone that the granting of permission to reschedule a race would only take place in exceptional circumstances, such as we experienced this year when heavy snow led to the cancellation of the Circuit of Ireland Easter Stages Rally and torrential rain led to the cancellation of the North West 200 and the Dundrod 150 motor cycle races."

Prior to this year's cancellation of Saturday's racing, North West 200 organisers had indicated that a potential move to Friday in the event of extreme weather had been under discussion while Ulster Grand Prix organisers had considered moving to Friday as its "preferred option" in the event of a poor weather forecast for Saturday this year.

The next stage in the process requires the Executive's approval to introduce this single purpose Bill to the Assembly and Due process will allow the Assembly to debate the issue and decide if the Bill is to proceed.

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