On Saturday mornings the West Yorkshire market town of Otley is a hive of activity, an increasingly rare example of a thriving high street full of independent shops and cafes which does not seem to need much help attracting visitors.
The pretty and historic stone buildings line one of the most popular parts of the Tour de Yorkshire route, one of the country’s most popular new sporting events. But next year’s event was cancelled last month and does not seem likely to be held again.
“I’m sad to hear it,” said Gillian Jarvis, from behind the counter of Rumagin Spirits, just off the market square. “It must cost a lot to put these events on but the Tour de Yorkshire brings a lot of tourism to the town. We’d really benefit from that — especially after the year we’ve all had.”
Following the success of hosting the Grand Départ of the Tour de France in 2014, the region’s tourism body, Welcome to Yorkshire, launched the annual Tour de Yorkshire in 2015. Attracting top international competitors, such as Norwegian racer Lars Petter Nordhaug who won in 2015 with Team Sky, the Tour de Yorkshire was run in partnership with Tour de France organiser the Amaury Sport Organisation.
The four-day event, with stages taking place across the county, brought £50m to the local economy in 2015, rising to £98m in 2018 – its most financially successful race – and was estimated to be the largest spectator event in the UK that year.
Around two million people lined the route each year and, in 2019, it was viewed across the world by 28 million people in 190 countries. Its success internationally was beginning to be recognised – it would have become part of the world leading UCI ProSeries last year, had the race not been cancelled due to Covid-19.
So it came as a surprise to many that, after two years of postponing the event because of the pandemic, Welcome to Yorkshire has said the 2022 competition will no longer be held as a result of financial difficulties which, it said, were related to the pandemic. It gave no indication of plans to return in 2023, leading to suggestions that 2019 was the event’s final year.
“The last 18 months have seen turbulent times for many businesses and for tourism, with financial restrictions which must be addressed and considered in all decision-making processes,” said Peter Box, the chairman of Welcome to Yorkshire.
But there is scepticism among many in Otley about the reasons for the cancellation. Many are still bruised from the high-profile resignation of Gary Verity, former Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive, who left on health grounds in 2019 after being accused of making false expense claims and presiding over a culture of bullying – allegations he denies.
Accounts released this year show the tourism organisation recorded a £200,000 loss after the fallout from the scandal, despite £1.2m of emergency funding from local councils.
But not everyone in Yorkshire will miss the tour. “It’s not worth it,” said Rawson Hall, owner of Leeds House cafe in Otley marketplace. “When people come for big events, they don’t sit in a cafe, they don’t buy a mop and bucket, or a screwdriver.
“When the Tour de France came we couldn’t put tables outside and they put a bus in front [of the cafe]. We knew it wouldn’t be a good trading day but a lot of businesses found that out the hard way. The World Cup is great but would you want it every year? People want a break,” he added.
Jan Trutch, owner of clothing and gift shop Silk Sisters, feels similarly: “People who came for the racing didn’t shop and my normal customers stayed away because the town was busy. But it’s good for the town and I’d rather it be on than not on.”