Shaftesbury Town councillors have decided they can’t take on and develop the Rotary Club’s cycle speedway track, proposed for Wincombe recreation ground. But councillors want to discuss working with the fundraisers to create a non-specialist community cycling facility in The Maltings area.
Shaftesbury Rotary Club members have been keen to revive cycle speedway, once a popular North Dorset pastime. In June, Rotarian Tony Morgan told ThisIsAlfred that a chalk and cinder cycle track once hosted competitive events at the bottom of Zig Zag Hill, ‘where Melbury Lions cycled against the other local clubs, like Donhead Dragons, Marnhull Mustangs, Blandford Bats, Child Okeford Otters, Hazlebury Comets and Newton Eagles’.
The sport declined in popularity in the 1950s but, this summer, Tony told us he was hopeful that children could soon be encouraged to enjoy cycle speedway again. He launched an appeal to recruit volunteers to steer the project forward with the hope that it would be established within a year.
In June, town councillors reconfirmed their commitment to lease land at Wincombe recreation ground for use as a cycle speedway circuit. That agreement still stands but on Tuesday, the council’s Recreation, Open Spaces and Environment Committee debated a request from Rotarians for the Town Council to take on the lead as facilitator for the cycle speedway. It would require the council to manage the project.
Town Council Business Manager Brie Logan explained that Rotary viewed their role as ‘enablers’ and had always intended to get a committee formed to deliver the plans, but this hasn’t happened to date.
Rotary remain enthusiastic about the venture and have secured money, but Town Clerk Claire Commons felt that active community support appeared to be lacking.
Councillor Jeanne Loader agreed that the cycle speedway plan appeared to be an ‘amazing idea’, adding that ‘the youngsters do need something’, but she wasn’t convinced by a Rotary Club email sent in October which said that the council would need to be ‘brave and farsighted’ but ‘if they build it, they will come’.
Meeting Chairman Cllr George Hall was also unconvinced that demand had been demonstrated. “There’s nobody beating on our door saying they want it,” he said. George added, “It sounds like a white elephant to me.”
Cllr Peter Yeo wondered whether the cycle speedway scheme would be realised if the Town Council did not take it on. He was supportive of the Rotarians’ work, as most councillors were, and committee members appeared to be happy to support the project, but they didn’t want the council to lead it.
One of the issues appears to be the Town Hall’s workload. The Town Clerk advised that cycle speedway didn’t feature on the Town Council’s recently agreed five-year Strategic Plan which the council says is based on community need and evidence. “It would have massive impact on the plan,” Claire said, and Mayor Tim Cook agreed. “We have enough on our plates as it is,” he added.
As a Rotarian, Cllr Philip Proctor declared his interest in the matter and abstained from voting. He said that his loyalties were divided between a ‘fabulous’ Rotary idea but, as a councillor, he felt obliged to raise his concerns over the proposed speedway track site on Wincombe recreation ground. He explained some of the issues.
“Cycle speedway bikes have no brakes. They are specially made for use on this track,” said Cllr Proctor, as he doubted whether any youngsters would currently be in possession of suitable bikes. “The track is 70m by 50m. It is gravel and when they are racing around, what happens when they slip and graze themselves?” Philip asked.
As the track would be used for competitive racing between neighbouring clubs, Cllr Proctor was worried there wasn’t sufficient infrastructure to cope. “People will come from Swindon and Poole in their cars with bikes attached. Where are they going to park? They have been driving for three-quarters of an hour. Where can they use the toilets?”
When ThisIsAlfred featured Rotary’s proposal in June, it received some criticism on our Facebook page from nearby residents. Some locals didn’t want the recreation ground altered. In the meeting Cllr George Hall had said that it would be, ‘a disaster putting it on the only football field in town’. Social media objectors also raised parking and noise concerns.
If Rotary pursues the project, they would still have to obtain planning permission, which could offer opponents an avenue to express their concerns. In August 2018, an officer from the Local Planning Authority emailed Shaftesbury Town Council to advise that the project would be sited, ‘some distance from housing, where the likelihood of noise or offence to neighbours is less likely’.
Councillors are keen to move away from the Wincombe rec site and specialist cycle speedway plan altogether, in favour of a more mainstream alternative for wider community use, possibly appealing to mountain bike and BMX riders.
Two locations have been suggested, land that will soon be transferred by Persimmon to the Town Council in the Maltings Square area. A second potential site is the currently undeveloped SUDS, or Sustainable Urban Drainage Solution, zone. It is the expanse of unused land immediately to the east of the Persimmon estate.
“You only have to stand in The Maltings and look at the number of youngsters on their bikes going straight down to the SUDS,” said Cllr Proctor. He liked the idea of creating a new facility in an undeveloped area, rather than losing part of the current playing field facility at the Wincombe recreation ground, by adding a cycle speedway track.
The SUDS land currently belongs to Persimmon. Cllr Yeo advised that the area was being transferred to Dorset Council and suggested that the Town Council could request that the land is gifted to them instead. Councillors were keen to establish whether the Rotarians would work together with the Town Council on a fresh plan and divert their £100,000 of secured funding to a new project.
Cllr Hall said it would present a ‘win-win’ solution. “If they want to invest in the community, there could be more than just a cycle track. There could be a nature reserve and a dog walking area too,” enthused Cllr Yeo, as he realised his vision for the SUDS land.
Cllr Tim Cook warned that some of the money secured by Rotary, including Sport England funding, might be ring fenced solely for cycle speedway, so it may not be transferrable to another cycle-related project, even if Rotarians wished to do that.
The meeting heard that £50,000 of the funding is ‘Section 106’ money, received from the new estate developers and transferred to the former North Dorset Council. It could potentially be diverted to a new scheme because it is ring fenced for community leisure.
The Town Council has asked Persimmon to search through their paperwork on the SUDS land transfer to assess whether this idea can become a reality. The cycle park concept could be presented to locals as part of next year’s planned public consultation on the future use and development of the transferred Mampitts Green land.
So, whilst the Rotary could ride solo in pursuing their Wincombe recreation ground project, councillors are hoping that a new wider appeal cycle scheme can be developed, working in tandem with Rotarians.