Disappointment for road racing fans due to events being cancelled over bad weather could be a thing of the past if Stormont approves a Bill to change the law.
This year’s North West 200 was cancelled at short notice after heavy rainfall — the second major disappointment for fans of the event in the space of just three years.
The existing legislation makes it difficult for organisers to be flexible when it comes to relatively unpredictable events like bad weather affecting the sport.
The Easter Stages Rally, due to be held in March, was cancelled due to heavy snow, while torrential rain forced the cancellation of Dundrod 150 motorcycle races as well as the NW200.
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy promised, in the aftermath of the NW200’s cancellation in May, that he would look at how the law could be changed to prevent similar occurrences happening again.
First Minister Peter Robinson spoke out at the time to pledge the government would make extra efforts to provide greater flexibility to road racing organisers.
Mr Kennedy said he now hopes the Bill can quickly progress through the Assembly, to be in place in time for next year’s road racing events.
The majority of those responding to a public consultation to gauge opinion on the existing law were in favour of allowing flexibility to rearrange the date of the race or practice sessions, Mr Kennedy said.
“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,” he said.
“These events and many other similar motorsport meetings are weather dependent. 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.”
But the minister was also careful to acknowledge any opposition to the idea of racing on a Sunday, which would still require a separate application to the department before being allowed to go ahead.
“The existing Road Races (NI) Order 1986 does not preclude Sunday racing, so the Bill does not seek to break any existing prohibition,” Mr Kennedy said.
“I would reassure everyone that the granting of permission to reschedule a race would only take place in exceptional circumstances.”
Whyte welcomes planned change
North West 200 event director Mervyn Whyte has welcomed the proposed changes to road racing laws here. Mr Whyte made an emotional plea after the event’s cancellation in May calling for more flexibility on the issue. Yesterday he told the News Letter: “It’s excellent news. It’s really what we were looking for.”
He said they lost £100,000 this year because of the event’s short notice cancellation.
Mr Whyte moved to reassure those concerned about Sunday racing that any new power to chance race days would only be used in exceptional circumstances.