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Mark Andrews on Saturday: Velodrome fine, but who foots the bill?

By Mark Andrews | Opinions | Published:

*A GROUP of global warming protesters caused chaos in the Big Smoke this week by bringing the London Underground to a halt.

The mob, calling itself Extinction Rebellion, rather pompously announced its members would ‘peacefully break the law in order to stop the Tube and then wait to be arrested.’

That’s awfully decent of them. They wouldn’t want to waste anyone’s time or anything, would they?

Let’s get this right. They hope to tackle global warming by preventing people from using public transport. And presumably having to get to work by alternative means, such, erm, driving their cars.

Not the sharpest tools in the box, are they?

*NO doubt if they were asked what they hoped to achieve from the chaos, they would say ‘raising awareness’. Which I think is activist-speak for ‘showing off’.

*MORE than 6,000 people have signed a petition calling for a velodrome to be built in Birmingham.

When I first read that story, my initial reaction was to question whether 6,000 people actually felt strongly enough to sign a petition. Usually, when you study the details, you find that this actually means a lot of people have merely clicked an online link as an exercise in virtue signalling. Which seems to be all the rage these days.

But no, it appears that the petition is pukka, that thousands of people really have signed a piece of paper calling for an indoor cycle track in Birmingham. So fair play to them, they have mounted a strong campaign.

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It has been suggested a velodrome would cost something in the region of £35 million, which is a serious amount of dough. And I suspect many would join me in reserving judgement until we know where that money is going to come from.

Now, if those behind the campaign are raising the money themselves, then good for them. They deserve all the support they can get. But even if 6,000 people are genuinely committed to bringing a velodrome to Birmingham, that will mean them handing over the thick end of six grand each. I can’t see it happening.

Maybe some of it will come from the lottery, but I'll wager a fair chunk will need to come from public funds. If Birmingham City Council, which in recent years has struggled even to collect the bins, foots the bill, then fair enough. I wouldn’t be too happy if I were a Brummie taxpayer, but I’m not, so none of my business.

I suspect, though, is that it will not be the cycling fraternity, or Brummies themselves, who pick up the tab. My fear is it would be taken on by the West Midlands Combined Authority, and that one way or another, directly or indirectly, taxpayers in the Black Country will be expected to make a contribution.

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So while our roads are riddled with potholes, libraries and museums have closed – not to mention the Lighthouse Centre being at risk of closure, and the Dudley Hippodrome on the brink of extinction – we will be asked to chip in for a fancy cycle track in somebody else’s city that few of us will ever visit.

Well, how’s this for an idea? Earlier this year, the West Midlands Combined Authority committed to spend £256 million on creating new cycle lanes around the region. Aside from the eye-watering sum of money, this work will cause years of disruption to our roads. And we all know only a tiny number of people will ever use the cycle lanes.

So why not drop the cycle-lane scheme, and spend £35 million on the velodrome instead? And then use the £221 million left over for things we actually need.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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