Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hill Climb - end of the road.

The endeavours of the Middlesbrough and District Motor Club to save the popular 'Hill Climb' motorsport event have finally come to an end. Club members have conceded that their efforts to save the Saltburn Hill Climb, which attracts thousands of people, have failed. Last years proposed 13th Vintage Hill Climb was cancelled because complex traffic regulations outlaw such events on public roads. Despite high-level talks, a 1,000 name petition and a delegation to plead the event's case to transport minister Stephen Ladyman at Westminster, club members now admit that the 'Hill Climb' must be consigned to the history books. Club secretary Ernie Crust, who helped dream up and stage the first Hill Climb in 1993, said, "It's sad but, legally, we just can't go any further. " The issue is that Saltburn Bank has 'adopted' status and even if it were to be bought privately, it would not have any rights over the legislation affecting adopted highways. Similar existing events of this nature in the UK are operated on privately owned or unadopted land. Councillor Dave Fitzpatrick said the council had tried to keep the Hill Climb going but had been advised by both the Auto Cycle Union and the Motor Sports Association that, in their opinion, there is no legitimate way to stage a motorsports event. Both the ACU and MSA have attempted to seek discussions with appropriate Government departments but have been categorically advised there are no plans to alter current legislation. Councilor Fitzpatrick concluded by saying, "It is extremely disappointing such a well-managed and popular event is unable to continue, but there genuinely seems to be no alternative."

The Hill Climb event was a contest of speed and time for vintage and
drawing from the programme of the first hill climb by Peter Parker classic motor cycles and attracted up to 85 solo bikes and motor cycle combinations every year. The race was the inheritor of a 100-year proud motor racing tradition in Saltburn. The first Saltburn motor race took place on the town beach. It was sponsored by a local garage owner, and attracted crowds of thousands from the nearby Teesside towns. Saltburn sands - along with the Pendine sands in south Wales - were reckoned by the great racing drivers of the day to be the best surface for displays of speed in the entire UK. This history of motor racing developed under the wing of the Yorkshire Automobile Club from 1906 onwards. In the inter-war years, some of the greatest names in British motor sport raced on Saltburn sands. The Guinness family and the Younger family—both brewing dynasties—had young sons who loved fast cars and the thrill of speed. They were joined at Saltburn by the famous competition drivers of the day, such as Malcolm Campbell and Parry Thomas. It was at this time that the first motor cycle races took place. It is even said that T. E. Lawrence—otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia—who was a keen motor cyclist, once took part in a local event. Following the end of the second world war, and the development of purpose-built racing circuits like Silverstone and Brands Hatch, racing on the sands ceased, but motor cycle hill scrambles from Saltburn up into to the hills continued. These events were sponsored throughout the '50s by the then Saltburn urban district council and with the backing of local landowners such as Lord Zetland and his family. The hill climb remained a proud tradition and was recreated in 1993 when the Middlesbrough and District motor club approached the local authorities to see whether it could relaunch an annual vintage and classic motor cycle hill climb. It was planned to hold it at the same time as the town's Victorian week, a celebration of the resort's Victorian heritage as a planned seaside town. The hill climb took place along the length of Saltburn bank and Saltburn lane, a steep route climbing at an almost one-in-seven gradient from Saltburn's beach up to the Victorian gardens of the Rushpool Hall hotel. The local police, the local authorities and the local community gave solid backing to the new hill race series as it was seen as important to the town's tourist economy. Over the years, the race grew in popularity, and it is estimated that there were between 4,000 and 5,000 spectators at both the start and finish of the hill climb. That meant that the town virtually doubled in size on hill climb days, and those people were spending money in the town. The hill climb became the Middlesbrough and District motor club's big annual event and quickly became fixed in the Teesside sporting and tourist calendar until earlier in 2005 when it was found out that due to the existence of a little known piece of legislation the race was illegal and, in fact, had been illegal from the first day that it was run. A fact that was as much of a shock to the Cleveland police and the Redcar and Cleveland borough council as it was to the hill climb organisers.

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