Access makes the heart grow fonder
Poised on a knife edge, the Cardiff Parkrun will either go the way of the dodo or emerge, lazarus like and head off to a new venue. If you’re not familiar with the Parkrun phenomenon, please indulge me a little and allow me to fill in the gaps. Parkrun is an organisation that facilitates free 5k running events up and down the UK. It’s phenomenally successful. After free pre-registration, runners can pitch up, run a measured course, get an official time and essentially get all the benefits that would normally cost a tenner or more for free (unless you’re amongst the gongs in 5k races, but let’s face it, that doesn’t apply to the majority of runners). A lead cyclist will lead you into the wide green yonder and take you for a tour of Blackweir and Butepark, the green heart of the Welsh capital. It’s run by runners, for runners. If you’ve been to one before, there’s a better than average chance that you’ve been back since or at least plan to in the near future. Sadly, it won’t be Cardiff that you’ll be attending.
Using a small section of the Taff Trail (route number 8 on the Sustrans map) at 9am on a Saturday morning, the council have pulled the plug on it. Apparently a complaint was received and the event has been blocked citing health and safety considerations. The route is entirely off road and within the confines of Cardiff city park land. At the start of the event, pedestrians and cyclists will be held up for no longer than a couple of minutes as the event gets underway. Is society really that impatient? So one complaint later and the event goes down the swanny. The Parkrun is also literally a stone’s throw away from the same spot that saw its beloved bench torched the other day (and reported here on a previous blog entry). You’d hope that the council would have the courage to encourage activity here, rather than block it.
There is a part of me that feels a little sorry for the Council. There is a great deal of good work being done in several areas of council policy (albeit perhaps slowly) and there are many stakeholders to keep happy. Runners – and sports people more generally – are just one section of society after all. However there’s an even bigger part of me that is both flabbergasted and worried. This could happen to any event anywhere on the most tenuous of grounds. Whilst policymakers at one end of the spectrum are telling us to get fit, take up a bit of sport, buy a bike, stop driving your car, eat well and sleep soundly, another is telling us to wrap ourselves up in cotton wool lest we force some additional paperwork on them. Currently, I’m involved in trying to ensure that our cross season’s climax – in the confines of the same park – goes ahead after the council has insisted on some extra financial constraints for the flimsiest of reasons. It’s always such an uphill battle and a wonder that events get held at all. In that particular instance, I’m fairly sure we’ll reach an agreement that satisfies all parties. Perhaps part of the difficulty for the council in these shared use circumstances, is trying to gauge the mood of the public and choosing the right path to take (please excuse the shocking pun). Second guessing after all, is never easy.
So I’m rather hoping that fellow readers of the cyclestuffblog will help support the rights of bipeds everywhere (runners and cyclists), by tweeting their support to #cardiffparkrun. With a bit of luck, it’ll be back up and running in the shake of a risk assessment sheet. At a very minimum you can be certain that many of the park runners will love you to bits for your efforts (and the council might thank you for your help with policy making).