Motorsport on closed public roads can take place in mainland Britain following a change in the law that will make it easier for races, rallies and speed events to be organised.
Although closed-roads events such as the Mull Rally and Rally Isle of Man take place annually in some parts of the British Isles, events on the mainland have traditionally been more difficult to arrange.
This is because each Road Traffic Act suspension or amendment – necessary to permit competing vehicles to travel above the speed limits on mainland roads – has required an Act of Parliament. That process has proven prohibitively expensive and time-consuming for most grassroots motor clubs.
From Monday 10 April, however, local authorities will be permitted to suspend the Road Traffic Act for authorised motorsport events on roads in their jurisdiction. The matter will no longer have to go to Parliament.
This doesn’t give a green light for unregulated street races that could endanger others. Motor clubs will still have to put in some considerable legwork to get their events up and running; police, local councils and highways authorities will need to be consulted and the process will take several months.
Nevertheless, the system will be much more streamlined: in the late 1980s, it took the organisers of the rally on the Isle of Mull almost two years to get their event’s closed-road order through Parliament.
This week’s victory is an important one for the Motor Sports Association (MSA) and its sister governing body for two-wheel UK motorsport, the Auto-Cycle Union (ACU), which have jointly mounted a seven-year-long campaign to persuade the government to change the law.
Their lobbying has been supported by research commissioned by the MSA and conducted by the Sport Research Institute at Sheffield Hallam University that showed that local communities across Britain could generate up to £40m of additional revenue by closing roads to host a limited number of motorsport events.
Rob Jones, MSA chief executive, said: “This is a seismic shift for UK motorsport, and one that the MSA and the wider motorsport community have pursued determinedly for many years. We can now take motorsport to the people, and in turn those local hosting communities have the opportunity to benefit from the economic boost that these events may provide.”
Although it is anticipated that most of the applications for new closed-road events will come from grassroots events, the ruling opens up the possibility of larger-scale races taking place on the streets.
The organisers of the Formula E electric single-seater series have warmly welcomed the news. Two Formula E events were held on private roads around Battersea Park in 2015 and 2016, but the event was unpopular with other park users and was axed. Now an ePrix around public streets in London – mirroring that which occurs in Paris – can at least be considered, even if the logistical challenges prove too complex for it to ever become reality.
“This move considerably helps the prospect of the London ePrix returning to the streets of the British capital,” said a spokesman for Formula E.
Transport Minister, Andrew Jones, said: “Britain is a world leader in the motorsport industry and this will further cement our position. There are already races of this kind in some areas of the British Isles which are incredibly popular, attracting thousands of spectators. New road races will boost local economies through increased tourism and hospitality, and offer community opportunities such as volunteering.”
Nigel Mansell, 1992 F1 world champion, also welcomed the news: “I have seen first-hand the very significant impact of motor sport on the economy of the Isle of Man and Jersey, so this is a great move forward for the sport and will bring visitors and pride to parts of the country that wish to stage such events. I am delighted that this government is embracing motorsport, which will assist the UK's world-leading position and improve the sport's ability to help provide opportunities and focus for young people.”