Recycling is a good thing, so they say. But I’m not so sure if that is really true when it comes to news stories. About once every two years there is a story about the possibility of a Grand Prix on the streets of London and people ask daft questions about whether it could happen: how much money would it generate for the city? Would the drivers have to pay the congestion charge? That sort of thing…
So let’s take a look at it. The Office of National Statistics recently reported that it estimates that London welcomed 16 million tourists in 2013, overtaking Paris as the most visited city in the world. The hotel occupancy rates have hovered around 80 percent for the last year, down from 2012 largely because of an increase in the number of hotel rooms to more than 100,000. Thus, in theory, there is room for improvement although pedestrian congestion is a problem at any and all tourist attractions. The hosting of an F1 race in the West End, as has been mooted, would thus depend on whether the possible gains would outweigh the disruption. Street races are famously disruptive, unless the venue is carefully chosen. The best venues are in city centre parks which do not involve any major traffic arteries. It might for example work in Hyde Park, which can be sealed off from the world around it, without messing the whole place up. However, the park is ringed by houses inhabited by the rich and powerful, who are always heavily armed with spanners to throw into the works. The other problem is not the one weekend when the race would happen, but rather the weeks of set-up and a similar period of cleaning up. Moving thousands of concrete barriers, bridges, grandstands and all the other paraphernalia is hugely disruptive. The city of Baltimore, for example, gave up a street race recently because of the mess it caused, compared to the revenues it generated. And let us not forget the mess that would be created by the preparatory roadworks required to have a suitable road surface and obstacle-free environment. Admittedly Central London has reduced its traffic flow with congestion charging, but the city still snarls up badly if there are road closures. And one must add to that the likely opposition from London’s Nimby community, who wish to lie quietly in their beds on Saturdays and Sundays.
Years ago Autosport ran an article in its April 1 edition about a street race in Central London. It was deemed to be that unlikely. Thirty years on from that, in a world of ever-increasing health and safety, with environmentalists under every cagoule, the idea is ever more remote. It would likely take years of legal actions from folk trying to protect pigeons and urban foxes.
But it’s fun to dream, isn’t it?