Bid to save Morpeth Road Race

COUNCIL chiefs have joined the fight to save the Morpeth to Newcastle Road Race.

Senior officials have promised to get organisers round a negotiating table to thrash out a compromise.

The Council hopes to get the event back on the calendar for 2006.

The world famous half marathon, nicknamed 'the Morpeth', is cancelled next year due to the increasing cost burden of closing roads along the route.

Competitor safety is another major issue that has to be addressed especially as the A1 between Morpeth and Stannington now has a 70mph speed limit.

Castle Morpeth Council plays no part in staging the Road Race but is happy to act as mediator between Police chiefs and the Organising Committee, which includes Morpeth Harriers, Claremont Road Runners, Gosforth Harriers, Heaton Harriers, Newcastle City Council and Northumbria Police.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the Borough's full Council.

Council Leader, Alan Sambrook, said: "We want to get everybody round the table because there are clearly some differences between the Police and other organisers.

"The hope is that by getting all the relevant parties to start talking we can resolve the issues that caused the race to be cancelled.

"The main problem is that the race is run along some very busy main roads with heavy traffic flows and the Police are hot happy about that, but we will push the talks forward to see if an agreement can be reached."

Chief Executive, Ken Dunbar, added: "It has to be remembered that this Council doesn't play a major part in organising the race, but clearly the Police believe it's much too dangerous to go ahead on the current route this year.

"Hopefully the Council can play a part in coming up with a plan that suits all parties and allows the race to go ahead in future years."

Morpeth Independent councillor, John Beynon, has put pressure on the Borough's ruling Lib-Lab Administration to do more to save 'the Morpeth'.

"It's the oldest road race in the world," he said.

"Other towns would give their right arm to have it, that's why the Administration has to ensure it isn't lost forever."

After the meeting, race organiser, Clive Wright, said: "I'm sure Castle Morpeth Council can have a significant role to play in the process.

"It'll be good to get as many interested parties involved in the talks because it was a huge disappointment that the race was called off for 2005.

"A meeting of the Safety Advisory Group is scheduled for January with a view to getting the event back on the calendar for the following year.

"At this stage it's very difficult to say if the race can be put back in 2006 but every effort will be made to reach a compromise.

"There are three key issues that have to be addressed.

"Above all, the route must be safe for competitors and other road users; it also has to be cost effective and strike a balance between practicality and not straying from the tradition of the Road Race route.

"It's a balancing act but if these issues can be addressed then the event could be back in 2006. We will know more in the New Year."

A spokesman for Northumbria Police said: "It was the race organisers who made the decision not to hold the race in 2005.

"When any new proposals come out for a future race, they will be put before the Safety Advisory Group on which the Police sit and we will consider the plans carefully."