Road racing organisers have welcomed the news that a proposal to amend the Road Closing Order in Northern Ireland has been approved by the Department for Regional Development.
The revised Bill will allow events such as the North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix to alter their schedule by bringing forward up to two practice or race days or adjusting the times at which roads were previously scheduled to close.
The adjustment in the legislation, which was passed yesterday after accelerated passage through the Assembly, will provide organisers of motorsport events in Northern Ireland with a safety net to protect their meetings in the event of inclement weather.
From next year, promoters will be able to use up to two contingency days in relation to their race dates. A contingency day must be one of the two days immediately before or after a race or practice date.
Alan Drysdale, Chair of the 2&4 Wheel Motorsport Steering Group Ltd., which took the lead in seeking the changes, said: “The approval of the Bill by the Assembly clearly demonstrates the willingness by the Minister, his officials and the Assembly to find a way to introduce much needed flexibility within the Road Closure legislation to try and avoid a recurrence of the abandonment of events in circumstances such as the adverse weather conditions at the Ulster Grand Prix in 2008, the North West 200 in 2011 and both the North West 200 and the Dundrod 150 earlier this year.
“2&4 will now work with the road race promoters to assist them to develop proposals that fully satisfy the Department’s requirements in relation to the implementation of a contingency day, particularly when the contingency day may be a Sunday.”
It is understood roads may be closed if necessary on a Sunday from 1.30pm to 6pm, with the closure time aimed at accommodating churchgoers.
In May, the North West 200 was cancelled as a result of torrential rain while the Dundrod 150 event – part of the Ulster Grand Prix Bike Week – was also lost due to poor weather.
Noel Johnston, Ulster Grand Prix clerk of the course, welcomed the news: “I am heartened by the news that the amended bill has been passed as it will allow us to build robust contingency plans into our overall event management plan for Bike Week.
“We’ve lost a lot of money over the years due to terrible weather conditions, so the flexibility to change which days we run the races at a day’s notice will certainly help safeguard the future of the event.
“While the total number of days on which roads can be closed remains at three, this is certainly a step in the right direction and is a vote of support for the road racing industry, which after all brings about significant economic benefits in terms of tourism.
“I’ve had a lot of foreign motorcycle fans tell me that they’d love to come to the UGP but that they’re put off by the chance of bad weather – they don’t want to come all the way here to look at an empty circuit,” he added.
“This news will hopefully give them the confidence to book their flights and experience the world’s fastest road race first hand.”
North West 200 event director, Mervyn Whyte, stressed that the option of switching racing to an alternate day would only be used in the most extreme circumstances.
“It’s important to bear in mind that unless we have conditions as bad as we saw this year, then we’ll continue to run on the Saturday,” he said.