CYCLISTS are to lose the use of Portsmouth’s velodrome after dark until next year in a row over repairs to its floodlights.
The Mountbatten Centre’s lights, which illuminate the track at night outside of the summer, have been out of action since the death of a taxi driver electrocuted on a nearby football pitch earlier this year.
It’s the youngsters I feel for. We can’t take advantage of the surge of interest that’s come from the Olympics.Roger De Vere, secretary of Fareham Wheelers
A ‘prohibition notice’ was put on the electrics system so the city council, which owns the Mountbatten site, and its operator, Parkwood Community Leisure, could come up with a plan to carry out major works to fix the lights so a similar accident would not happen again.
But it’s been estimated the entire project could cost more than £250,000 – and there is a dispute between the parties over the amount of work that needs doing.
Council officials admit it could take six months to complete the work.
Cycling bosses say the hold-up is preventing aspiring riders from training and enhancing their talents – at a time when the nation’s interest in cycling is growing following Team GB’s success at the Olympics.
Guy Watson, head coach of Portsmouth School of Cycling Racing, said: ‘I’m getting about 10 enquiries a week off the back of the Olympics and we having to put them on hold.
‘We’d be able to offer them space for a couple of weeks, and then end up having to say “here’s a car park to train on that we’ve found”.
‘My concern is, we will lost use of that track very quickly and it will have a knock-on effect that could take years to fix. People see the Tour de France and the Olympics and come to see wanting to try out the sport, and yet that will be taken away very soon.
‘This probably won’t be resolved until April, when there is light again. It’s so soul-destroying.’
Mr Watson, who coaches 40 youngsters aged eight to 16 at the site, also used by 60 other riders of different ages, says the situation is deeply frustrating as teams have only just been able to start using the velodrome again this year.
It is not the first problem the cycling track has faced. The velodrome was put out of action following the death of an off-duty police officer during a race in March 2014, which led to track repairs.
Roger De Vere, secretary of Fareham Wheelers amateur cycling group, said: ‘It’s highly frustrating. This whole thing has been mismanaged right from the beginning.
‘The council could have had this done ages ago. To get this far, after making the track safe, and yet now we have a problem with the lights.
‘It’s the youngsters I feel for. We can’t take advantage of the surge of interest that’s come from the Olympics.’
A Parkwood Community Leisure statement said: ‘A proposal to repair and reinstate the external floodlighting at the Mountbatten Centre was prepared in May.
‘Due to the significant cost involved, our proposal, which will be covered by an existing Lifecycle fund, was submitted to Portsmouth City Council at the same time.
‘The council has carried out a review and raised questions which we have responded to.
‘We have asked the council for permission to proceed with the order and complete the work as soon as possible.’
David Evans, the council’s leisure and sports facilities manager, said: ‘We’re talking to Parkwood about what work needs to be done to get the floodlights back in operation as soon as possible, so the all-weather pitch and track can be used at night again.
‘This work will involve the lights, the columns supporting them, and electrical systems.
‘The cost will be borne by Parkwood. But because the council owns the site, and because Parkwood receives public funds for operating the centre, we want to ensure that the best long-term solution is found and that money is well spent. Some specialist equipment can take a long time to obtain. We’re hoping the floodlights will be working again within six months.’