Thursday, 29 September 2016

Princetown NIMBYs

Not too far from Plymouth, up on high moorland, lies the village of Princetown. History tells us the village sprung up around the prison built there, and the prison was built there precisely because it can be such a desolate place, especially in the midst of winter.

At 435 metres above sea level, it is the highest village on Dartmoor, one of the highest in England and on a clear, sunny day the views are amazing. In the depth of winter, after snow falls, Princetown is often very popular with hordes of snow-seekers, mostly from nearby Plymouth.

The village has a few shops and two pubs, all of which are heavily dependent on tourism. Indeed, during the summer months, Princetown is often overrun by coachloads of tourists, with yet more arriving by car, bicycle or on foot.

One per year the Dartmoor Classic sportive passes through the village. Now contrary to what many people (including the Dartmoor Forest Parish Council, under which Princetown and nearby Postbridge and Hexworthy fall) mistakenly believe, a sportive is not a race.

Instead of a race, a sportive is a timed ride, on open roads, with riders set off in batches. The Dartmoor Classic is very popular, and places for it usually sells out in under 24 hours. Organised by the Mid Devon Cycling Club, the Dartmoor Classic makes a significant contribution to the local economy of a rural area already heavily dependent on funding from outside the area. The Dartmoor Classic has become an iconic event on the sportive calendar and is well known for being tough.

Every year Mid Devon Cycling Club supports various charities through the Dartmoor Classic event, including the amazing Dartmoor Search and Rescue group.

Given the positive economic impact the event has on Princetown and Postbridge, you'd imagine the locals would be be very supportive, protective even, of the event. After all, the influx of money helps sustain local businesses, which in turn supports local jobs. It's a desperately needed loop of positivity, given that the other major economic contributor to the village, Dartmoor Prison, is set to close soon..

And yet there are parish councillors who would like the event moved away from Princetown, which is so short-sighted it beggars belief. The impact of the event was discussed by the Dartmoor Forest Parish Council on the 28th of July, 2016.

The minutes of that discussion are as follows:
"6. Dartmoor Classic Sportive Cycling Event 
The event held on 22 June 2016 has generated considerable feedback from councillors. This initial feedback has been sent to DNPA to share at the next meeting of the safety advisory group that are holding with the organisers in early August.
The Parish Clerk has drafted a letter (previously circulated) to the organisers to raise our concerns at the impact of the event. The Parish Council to agree what, if any, changes they should request of the organisers and wider authorities, recognising that no formal parish wide surveying of the economic impact of this event and cycling in general to business has been completed.
Potential requests of the organisers and wider authorities:
a. Applying to close roads for the event.
b. Requesting the number of cyclists is significantly reduced for the event.
c. Running the event over two days with reduced numbers of cyclists on each day.
d. Re-routing the event away from Hexworthy Hill.
e. Re-routing the event away from Princetown.
f. Changing the route annually to avoid villages having the congestion and inconvenience each year. g. Requesting that the organisers make significant, community donations for the benefit of the Parish e.g. contributing to the cost of funding Princetown Play Area Phase 3. (relevant examples include; Tavistock Carnival is an event that could be viewed as disruptive to the town but makes significant donations to community organisations, Epic Kidz www.epickidz.co.uk is a charity that receives funds from athletes participating in cycling and running events in the North West that are then used to fund donations to youth and community organisations in the area). 
h. Work with the organisers and other bodies e.g. DNPA to use the event to promote Princetown and wider Dartmoor Forest. "

Now despite the conflicting suggestions listed, those minutes don't by themselves seem immediately overly negative, and we have to acknowledge that an event such as the Dartmoor Classic will of course have an impact on the village.

Let's look at the listed potential requests:
Point A suggests holding the event on closed roads? If the parish council is concerned about the negative impact of the event, why on earth would they propose making it far worse by closing roads? The level of misunderstanding of the issue is rather scary! The Dartmoor Classic takes place on open roads, meaning cars can and do share the roads at the same time. Closing the roads will mean cars cannot do so, and will worsen the impact on local people.
Points B, C, D, E and F are essentially the same thing, and translates as "we don't want all those cyclists on our roads" and is the very essence of NIMBYism.
Point G is actually a damn good suggestion, and one I hope Mid Devon Cycling Club will take forward. Make the event even more positive locally!
Point H is bizarre - how do these people think their attempt at banning the Dartmoor Classic from Princetown would help promote the village, or the wider Dartmoor Forest, is beyond me.

Following on from these minutes, the parish council published a rather biased SurveyMonkey survey on their site, which asked some leading questions. Cyclists got wind of this and started responding, and the parish council pulled the survey, presumably because they weren't getting the overwhelming negative response they were after.

In its place they printed and circulated paper surveys to all households in the parish. This is a copy of that survey:
Questions 1 to 3 are quite straightforward and I doubt anyone will have much of an issue with those, although the psychology students or legal experts may feel that they're used to set the stage for what follows.

Question 4 is absolutely leading and leans heavily towards the survey's ultimate aim: garnering support for forcing the event out of Princetown, Postbridge and Hexworthy.

Question 5 seems tacked on as an afterthought, and is unlikely to have enough influence to balance the skewed view presented by question 4.

Given the minutes that precede this survey, the intention is undeniably clear: it is an obvious attempt by some NIMBYs to move a highly successful and overall very positive event away from their village, and off their roads.


A subsequent meeting, held on the 22nd of September 2016, had the following to say:
"6. Dartmoor Classic Sportive Cycling Event The Parish Council agreed to complete a parish wide consultation on the impact of this event and cycling to help determine what, if any, changes they should request of the organisers and wider authorities. Cllr. Alison Geen circulated a draft survey which was agreed in principle. Cllrs. Alison Geen and Suzanne Davies to finalise questions and agree method of distribution and collection. Agreed to trial using email and survey collection software such as ‘Survey Monkey’ which can be used on a free basis."

Now an important bit is this: "what, if any, changes they should request of the organisers and wider authorities", because that's all they can do: request. The parish council has no authority to stop the event.

Also of note is the fact that councillor Suzanne Davies joined the Plymouth Cycling Campaign's Facebook group on the 27th of September 2016, perhaps in an attempt to gauge cyclists' reaction to this? On that same Facebook Group I was slated by another person, Chris Wright, who called me an "idiot trying to wind people up" when I first raised the survey there. Mr Wright has also since joined Plymouth Cycling Campaign's Facebook group.

Yes, you guessed it: Chris Wright lives in Princetown and is a Land Rover fanatic, and who feels strongly that the Dartmoor Classic should not pass through "his" village, but is happy for it to continue along a different route. Oh, and in a masterstroke of irony, he took exception to me calling him a NIMBY.

If you're not familiar with the area, suggesting the route be altered may seem so reasonable, until you realise how few roads there are to choose from. Crossing Dartmoor pretty much means passing through Princetown, unless the parish council has plans (and funding!) to suddenly build a bypass road.

This issue is as silly as it is sad. Devon County Council has repeatedly acknowledged the extremely valuable contribution cycling brings to the rural economy, and has clearly stated its intentions to further capitalise on that by attracting more cyclists and more cycling events. It is no coincidence that the Tour of Britain has a Devon stage - the county council part funds it, knowing it's a very worthwhile investment.

We simply cannot allow a handful of NIMBYs to spoil things for everyone. The roads and other public infrastructure used by events such as the Dartmoor Classic was heavily subsidised by tax payers that live outside the local area. This is true for any rural area and nobody in their right mind would object to that.

We do however object rather strongly to a few NIMBYs trying to prevent us from legally using those roads we have all contributed towards.
Please email the Dartmoor National Park authority on hq@dartmoor.gov.uk to express your support for the Dartmoor Classic, and your opposition to the NIMBYs' plans? You can also tweet them on @dartmoornpa