At trackcycling we have a soft spot for the velodrome at Palmer Park Stadium in Reading. It’s our local track and it’s where we first experienced the sport of track cycling and we’re still there every Monday night during the track league season where we sponsor the Scratch Race competition. We even train there occasionally. So we’re as frustrated as anyone about the current state of the track and the apparent lack of action by the operator, Reading Borough Council.
Pictures by Chris Macleod.
From the outside, track cycling in the UK couldn’t be in a healthier state. The new velodrome in Derby brings the number of indoor, 250m tracks to five with rumours of another one – or even two – to follow. And yet, some of the country’s older tracks – which are just as important to the grass roots of the sport – have been sorely neglected for decades. Many have been lost altogether and there’s a danger that Palmer Park will join them.
We were aware of some problems at the track, but even we weren’t aware of just how bad things had got until an article on the website of Reading East MP Rob Wilson was brought to our attention. Wilson visited the track on the 8th of November to meet Chris Macleod and Andy Pitt Chairmen of Palmer Park Velo and Reading Track League respectively “to hear about how continued Council in-action could spell disaster for those reliant on the cycling facility.”
Macleod’s pictures paint a pretty depressing picture with long term problems with the barrier fencing finally reaching the point where they not only perform their intended task of keeping people inside and outside the track safe, they also represent a genuine source of danger to track and stadium users. Equally worrying, the surface of the track itself is deteriorating with weeds growing through the asphalt and opening out cracks that frost and ice could multiply over the coming winter.
Both the youth cycling club and the track league organisers have raised the issue with Reading Borough Council and say that while promises have been made to address the problem, no action has been taken.
Wilson said: “It’s such a shame that Reading Borough Council has let the Palmer Park Stadium cycle track fall into this state of disrepair. Sadly this has so often been the case with much-needed community facilities across the borough – swimming pools are another area where governance at RBC is really letting local people down.
“The track is obviously in need of urgent maintenance – the weed sand cracks on the surface are completely unacceptable and pose a risk to the safety of participants. There are also major problems with the bounding fences which have literally been left to rot away.
“Thankfully Palmer Park Velo and Reading Velodrome Racing clubs have undertaken personally to complete the necessary remedial work. This has patched-up the track sufficiently to allow cyclists to continue to enjoy what is clearly a much-enjoyed facility.
“This is not a long-term solution however and in order to ensure the future of the track and the clubs that rely on it urgent action is required from RBC. The clubs have requested this assistance as they are determined to maintain it to a high standard, but despite the empty-promises from Councillors the facility remains largely ignored.
“I have written to the Council and requested immediate action to return the Stadium to an acceptable standard so that it can continue to help cultivate the cycling talent of the future. It wouldn’t take much to do and it would also be financially prudent to undertake the works before the problem is further exacerbated and a more substantial outlay required.”
Councillor Paul Gittings – whose son Matt – double (and current) National Derny Champion – won the Senior A Championship at this year’s Track League – told trackcycling “As lead councillor with responsibility for this area I have been personally assured by council officers that the necessary work will be undertaken.
“The track was inspected at the start of the summer and given the all clear but there has been some deterioration in certain areas which need attention. Council spending across areas such as leisure has come under an unprecedented squeeze since the Coalition Government of which Rob Wilson is a member, started its austerity programme and Reading Council alone has had to make an average of £11 million of savings each year, with the loss of nearly 700 staff.
“It has also to be said the RBC carried out essential repairs to the track and athletics track amounting to several hundred thousand pounds a few years ago when an emergency problem occurred and is totally committed to maintaining the facility.
The track – which hosted the 2013 National Youth Omnium Championships – may have been inspected at the start of the season and given the all clear – but it’s hard to believe anyone looked at the state of the fences. Thankfully, a long track league season passed without incident – but that may have been more by luck than judgement.
As Gittings noted, it’s not the first time there have been problems at the stadium and the council has always stepped in – eventually. In 2002, ancient bell mines under the cycling and athletics track and the football pitch in the track centre collapsed, leaving the track unusable for most of the year while the mines were filled and both tracks refurbished.
Last season the floodlit track was in darkness for weeks after over the half the floodlight bulbs failed. Replacements were ordered but there was no budget left to have them fitted. And this time, the council says, the work will go ahead – but cannot give firm timescales.
If the repairs can be carried out over the winter – with no disruption to the summer track league or youth racing seasons – it may turn out to be the best of outcomes. But until that work begins, it’s hard to see how the track can be passed as safe in its current state.