Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Woodvale Rally organisers confirm airfield axe for 2013 event

THE Woodvale Rally will not be returning to its traditional home at the RAF Woodvale airbase, its organisers have confirmed this week.

As first reported on Life On Cars last Friday, ongoing concerns about asbestos at the airfield, near Formby, have meant plans for the event to return there in its traditional format are no longer possible, although the show's organisers are now working on a smaller scale event, which is set to be held in Southport this June.

This week's Southport Champion newspaper has followed up the story, and today's front page story, by my colleague Natasha Young, reads:

THE popular Woodvale Rally will not be returning to its RAF airfield home after organisers were dealt a health and safety blow.

The long-running event had to be relocated at the eleventh hour last summer, when it was due to take place at RAF Woodvale for the 41st year, after a trace of asbestos was found at the site.

The move to Southport's Victoria Park hit organisers financially and also meant that key attractions such as the model aircraft demonstrations couldn't go ahead due to the lack of runway, but the team behind the event remained hopeful that the rally would be able to make an RAF Woodvale return this year.

As previously reported in the Champion, organisers went to seek advice from specialists after a Government report on the site was released, and were told there was no risk to the public from the asbestos and an affected area could easily be fenced off during the event with air monitoring also being carried out in marquees.

Now rally manager Peter Wood has been told that the RAF can't issue permission for the event to be held at the airfield, and told the Champion this week: “Because there's been a trace of asbestos at Woodvale, although we had a report saying there was no danger, they are unable to issue us a report saying we can use the airfield.

"I think we're out of RAF Woodvale forever."

He added: "There's such disappointment because the event's been there for over 40 years. The whole event was built for RAF Woodvale."

Despite the bitter blow, organisers are now determined to salvage some of the rally by coming up with a new event in Southport.

Rather than trying to recreate the Woodvale Rally at a different venue like last year, the group is now in the early stages of putting together a new two-day family event.

It is hoped the festival, which has been given the working title of Woodvale Transport Extravaganza, will be able to take place at Victoria Park on June 22-23.

If all goes to plan it will feature the classic cars, displays and family entertainment that the rally offered and, while the flying displays will no longer be able to take place, tickets will be cheaper for visitors.

Mr Wood explained: "We're going to give a much reduced admission, like £5 for adults and children free, and free car entry. We're really trying to make this one work.

An email has been circulated to car club members in the area to get their views on the idea for the new show, which could potentially still include camping and possibly parking on Princes Park.

Meanwhile, Mr Wood said a catering company used at the rally is already on board and Sefton Council is said to be pleased about the prospect of an event being held in the resort in June, which is currently a clear month on the town's events calendar.

“We hope this will succeed. The only disappointment will be the model flying,” added Mr Wood. “We just hope people will give their support.”

The latest news will be a blow to car and bike enthusiasts across the north west, who are among the exhibitors who have been attending the Woodvale Rally since its inception, although they are being encouraged to support plans by the organisers for the successor event.

Life On Cars comment:  LOSING the Woodvale Rally, in its traditional form at least, is a huge blow for car and bike enthusiasts right across Sefton and West Lancashire, as well as further afield. What's more, to my mind at least the RAF's decision triggers more questions than it answers.

Crucially, why has it been decided it's too dangerous to hold an event there, even when the Rally's organisers have been told by independent findings that the asbestos found at the airfield poses “no danger” to the public? Perhaps, most importantly of all, what does it all mean for the car clubs, the bikers, the exhibitors and the Great British Public who've supported the show for so many years, especially when it relocated to Victoria Park for last year's event?

I don't - and I'm sure I speak for hundreds of Rallygoing classic car owners - blame the Woodvale Rally's organisers for a second, who've a) fought tooth and nail to keep the event at RAF Woodvale going despite the setbacks, and b) kept the fans updated, particularly on their Facebook page.

For as long as I can remember the Woodvale Rally has been a highlight of my car nut calendar, for all sorts of reasons. Who can forget the flypasts of World War Two aircraft? Or the rows of classic cars and bikes seemingly stretching to the horizon? Or even the heady aroma of fast food being served to thousands of visitors? The airfield event, for all sorts of reasons, is just part of my childhood, and now that I'm a fully grown boy I'm saddened by the latest developments.

I'm sure even the Woodvale Rally's most ardent fans would admit the 2012 event lacked the scale and variety of the airbase extravaganzas of previous years, but then the people behind it had it did the best they could with a show that'd been relocated at short notice. The show, as they say, must go on.

It's a crying shame that the memories of wandering through legions of old cars on hot August weekends are set to remain just that - memories - but I reckon the team behind the Woodvale Rally have got the skills, contacts, experience, and crucially, goodwill to turn a blow into an opportunity and create something to fill the vacuum in the motoring events diary.

That should be top of the organisers' to-do list, but it leaves the region's motoring fans with a mission of their own too. We need to lend them their support, because that's the only way to create an even more memorable event for the next generation of car nuts to enjoy.

The Woodvale Rally is dead. Long live whatever replaces it!

What do you think? By all means leave a comment below if you'd like Life On Cars to follow it up...

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