When Hadleigh Park re-opened to much fanfare post 2012 Olympics it really looked like we were going to be blessed with a tremendous facility for mountain biking for the foreseeable future.
Sadly, it appears that after relatively short space of time that legacy is drifting away on a cloud of compromise and strange decision making. Despite being supported by one of the biggest MTB clubs in the UK and their home grown MSG race promoters, the Hadleigh Park MTB offer really is starting to look a bit out of sorts.
So why is this we ask?
It seems like along the way to achieving this legacy a great number of compromises were made, which gravitates against the Park having an effective future. Many won’t be aware of the Parks history, which is actually really interesting. The bits that are relevant are firstly that is the place where the Salvation Army began its work, and that it was the site of one of the biggest anti aircraft batteries during the Blitz.
With regard to the Salvation Army, it is their home, and therefore taking it over for MTB was a difficult and complex negotiation. Hefty compromises were necessary to bring it about and the two most profound of these were the running of the Cafe, which is under the control of the Salvation Army and the historic grazing rights for the Armies herd of cattle. What this actually means is that one of the main revenue streams from the park is denied, and therefore the opportunity to make the place a commercial success is seriously diminished. Added to that the fact that cattle can randomly be allowed to graze freely does make it quite an unpleasant place to ride your bike, either risking a face full, or alternatively an abrupt stop with a 1/4 tonne of prime beef in your way.
We spoke to the guys at MSG, and while they were reticent to criticise, they did admit that they had withdrawn their last event from the Park because of cattle grazing. Graham Elliott, partner, said “we can cope with sheep poo, as we can blow it off the course, but cow poo is a whole different ball game”. Without getting too graphic apparently it sticks to the grass and is really difficult to shift. Graham added that from his perspective it poses a health risk to competitors, and when risk assessing the situation he could not mitigate it sufficiently to make racing a viable proposition. When we asked will you be back there? Graham replied that MSG were hopeful and were awaiting a meeting with Active Essex to discuss that matter.
We also spoke to Michael Travers of Travers Bikes who has been running some mid week race activity. His view was similar to the MSG one. He lamented that when he turned up to mark out the course for the 4th round of the ESES, ‘I found the cows were back on the course grazing and as it was the day of the race and without warning it was too late to cancel the event. I spent most of the race baby sitting the cows and doing my best to keep them away from the riders. There also wasn’t much I could do to remove the natural obstacles they had all also dropped around the track’.
We have tried to speak with Active Essex, but come up blank. We also looked at the Parks Facebook page where it seems that the onus has shifted completely away from cycling, with regular posts about everything but what the place was intended for.
Sad to see such an imposing venue apparently not quite delivering on the vision we all had for it.