The people of Yorkshire are known for their pride in ‘God’s Own Country.’ This will not be helped by the vindication from the organisers of the ‘Tour de France’, who have decided to set the opening two stages of the tour in the county. The stages are starting in Leeds, looping Northwards to the Yorkshire Dales, and stopping at the spa town of Harrogate. Starting in the city of York, and ending in Sheffield after going round Leeds again, this promises a large boost to the whole of the county.
The Yorkshire tourism board website bases an estimated boost of £100m, on the last time the Tour visited England. In 2007, a London-Kent route brought in £88m to the local economy and £35m worth of media coverage. With 2 million spectators turning out over two days, 1,200 rooms booked each night, and a television audience of up to 3.5bn. Big numbers.
The benefits are clear. The short-term injection of money should help revive a local economy which does not boast any significant industries, with South Yorkshire still flagging from the widespread closure of the mines and the economy in North Yorkshire perhaps over-reliant on a farming industry, that has suffered a lot in recent years. More importantly though, the legacy of raising the profile of Yorkshire to a global audience will offer the best opportunities for business and tourism here to expand and make use of the Tour.
However, the benefits should not be overstated. The Tour goes through the key economic centres of Leeds, Bradford, York, Harrogate and the urban conurbation that seems to be South Yorkshire, and the loop through North Yorkshire should help its narrow economy, but the tour misses out on South Yorkshire significantly and East Yorkshire is not included at all. The Hull City Council has a partnership with the British Cycling Association but is the area that will miss out.
South Yorkshire has plenty to offer, with a much wider economic base than the other ridings – from the Peak District National Park to the famed steel-making in Sheffield – and the decline of East Yorkshire’s economy and image in recent years suggests that it could have benefitted most from it. Youth unemployment in East Yorkshire is generally between 8 % and 10%, compared to between 2% and 5% in North Yorkshire.
The North York Moors’ National Authority, meanwhile, touts the benefits of the Tour to local hotel and hostel businesses, and to local cycling in general. The tour could have benefitted Hull much more, with its links to the continent by ferry and the greater potential for economic development with the dearth of unemployed workers and buildings around the Humber.
However, maybe that is overstating the Tour itself. The Tour is a sporting competition; entertainment for spectators, not a business conference. Business comes from the spectators and the images they take home with them. The Grand Départ in July 2014 will kick-start the region, but it is still firstly a great sporting competition.