Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you won’t have missed that the Tour de France 2014 kicked off in Yorkshire. What you might not have realised is that the Day One Stage went past MOD training areas at Catterick and Ripon.
Bellerby Ranges, at Catterick, and the Ripon Parks area were both next to the route. This required DIO involvement to ensure everything around our land went smoothly – not least in stopping spectators accessing the Range Danger Areas!
I’m Phill Ingledew and, after I retired from the Regular Army as a Major in the Royal Logistic Corps, I went into industry and local Government. I returned to the Ministry of Defence (MOD) in January to take on the role of DIO’s Security and Public Access Officer for the North Region.
For the last few months, a small team from DIO worked very hard on something rather out of the ordinary – preparations for the legendary cycle race taking to the highways of Yorkshire.
Planning and Preparations
For several months, I regularly attended planning meetings and work-up exercises; liaising with colleagues from other relevant agencies, such as the organisers of the UK stages, local authorities and the emergency services.
It’s a great experience to work as part of a multi-agency team and is something I was used to from my Army specialisation as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Operator and Ammunition Technical Officer. We all worked together with a common purpose to make sure the event went off without a hitch, at least across North Yorkshire. It’s a testament to everyone’s dedication and hard work that there weren’t really any problems.
North Yorkshire County Council staff in particular went the extra mile to ensure that all was ready for the riders at ‘le Grand Depart’. The riders began the race at Harewood House, near Leeds, having met the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. They then entered the largest and, having seen the race coverage, many would call it the most beautiful county in England. God’s own country, as they say!
While the riders and teams were busy preparing for the off, the SD Training staff were working hard to ensure we were prepared for their passage through Richmondshire and Harrogate Districts.
On The Day
DIO’s involvement was very wide-ranging. In addition to safeguarding our own training areas, we provided an Emergency Services Forward Operating Base (FOB) at Wathgill Camp.
Five helicopters operated from the FOB during the race: three from the ‘Le Tour’ team, which provided superb TV pictures that showcased North Yorkshire in a fantastic light; two air ambulances from Yorkshire Ambulance Service and one helicopter from national Police resources.
We provided briefing rooms with telephones, accommodation and meals for a number of these services as well as facilities for the RAYNET Radio Communications team. They provided back-up communications to North Yorkshire County Council which proved vital on the day, as primary communications for event stewards and marshals was problematic. On top of this, we monitored Council waste bins and provided portaloos.
For DIO, one important part of the event was preventing the public from accessing the training area and ranges. We still had military users undertaking ‘dry’ training – without ammunition – across Catterick Training Area while the race was taking place. It was, therefore, important to avoid anything which could interrupt the exercises.
Preventing access was also vital for a public safety. Bellerby Ranges are today mostly used for infantry training, but over their long history, dating back to World War One, firing has taken place across the surrounding rural areas with many locations still containing Unexploded Ordnance (UXO).
DIO was able to use military help to prevent the public from straying on to the training estate. Our Training Safety Officer at Ripon Training Area was greatly assisted by soldiers from 21 Engineer Regiment, whilst the Infantry Training Centre provided volunteers to assist at Catterick Training Area. In this way we were able to avoid all but one or two minor incursions into our land. Those which did occur were appropriately and effectively managed by DIO’s experienced staff.
Major Mark Flecchia, the Senior Training Safety Officer for Catterick Training Area, and his team were our main contact with the public, including crowd control on the race route as it passed the Training Area.
A road separates the Training Area from the land of Lord and Lady Peel who undertake significant commercial grouse moor operations adjacent to us at Grinton Moor. Spectators were rather thinner on our side of the road as we had restricted access to the range boundary, so Major Flecchia and his team helped Lady Peel and her game keepers with crowd control – as the theme tune to the famous Australian TV soap goes, ‘everyone needs good neighbours!’
On a more serious note, it is important for us to have good relationships with our neighbours and they were grateful for the assistance they received. Fortunately, the atmosphere was great and the spectators were good-natured, so there weren’t really any issues.
Our staff were even able to prevent a possible case of hypothermia by providing sleeping bags and food to a father and son who had camped out overnight to get a good view, but were rather under-equipped. An umbrella and an inflatable lilo weren't enough to protect them from the downpour during the night!
A hot breakfast was also gratefully received by the RAYNET personnel who had been operating since 4am during the worst of the deluge.
Although our efforts preparing for the Tour de France was additional work that occasionally involved unsociable hours, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be involved with an event of this scale and magnitude. It’s definitely something I’ll look back on with pride.
It is clear from the valedictory comments we have subsequently received that DIO and the military’s input to planning and execution has, as ever, been appreciated by local authorities and our neighbours and tenant farmers.
For now, though, I wouldn’t mind a quieter few months!