Herrington Country Park stages of car rally in Sunderland are “cancelled” because council cannot afford repair costs

On a dark, wet and murky morning, crowds turned out to watch classic rally cars racing against the clock on one of the stages of the Roger Albert Clark Rally at Herrington Country Park.
On a dark, wet and murky morning, crowds turned out to watch classic rally cars racing against the clock on one of the stages of the Roger Albert Clark Rally at Herrington Country Park.
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Two Wearside stages of a prestigious motor rally have been cancelled just four weeks before the event goes ahead.

Two stages of this year’s Roger Albert Clark (RAC) Rally were set to be held at Herrington Country Park on Friday, November 27, and Saturday, November 28, as they were in 2014.

But now they have been cancelled, with organisers saying Sunderland City Council have made the decision to withdraw the use of the park due to being unable to pay for repairs.

Despite the change, the rally will still begin and end at the Seaburn Centre, on Sunderland’s seafront.

The event recreates the RAC rallies of the 1970s and 1980s, using cars from that era.

Rally crews will tackle 150 stage miles in 20 different stages including one in Kielder, Northumberland.

Councillor Harry Trueman, deputy leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “This year’s Roger Albert Clark Rally starts and finishes in Sunderland and returns to the city each evening.

“Sunderland will host a city centre start on Friday, November 27, the scrutineering and the finish ceremony.

“Plus, the awards presentation on Sunday evening at the Seaburn Centre, all of which are open to spectators.

“This year there won’t be any rallying stages at Herrington Country Park.

“This is because of the risks of damage potentially running into hundreds of thousands of pounds to repair.

“In the current financial climate, the council does not believe it is appropriate to underwrite such potential costs.

“This is not a decision the council has taken lightly.

“We apologise to anyone who has taken time off work in order to provide supervisory services at Herrington over the weekend, and to those who were looking forward to watching rallying in the city.”

Rally manager Colin Heppenstall said: “We are happy working with the council and we’ve no issues with their decision.

“The loss of the stages at Herrington Country Park are negligible to the total miles of the rally and we look forward to the event being roaring success with help from the council.”

An email sent to those who were set to volunteer at the events which has been seen by the Echo reads: “As some of you may have already heard, the Herrington Stage on the RAC Rally has been CANCELLED.

“This is a last-minute decision by the owners of the venue, Sunderland Council, who unfortunately are no longer able to afford the repairs to the venue after we’ve been there.

“For those of you who were there last year, and saw the quagmire that we left behind, I am sure that you will sympathise with them.

“I’d like to pass my thanks to all of those who had already volunteered, and apologise for messing up your plans.”

The marshal who passed on the email, but did not want to be named, said: “We got an email a few days ago which went through the final details for the runs and when we were supposed to be going to the park.

“But now we’ve been sent this email saying it’s cancelled.

“It’s disappointing because it’s quite a trek to the other runs and everything is done on a volunteer basis.

“Some of us took days of work so that we’d be available to marshal the rally.

“Apparently the council is a little bit aggrieved because some of the grass got chewed up last time and they’re worried about how much it will cost to repair.”

The Rally will begin with a ceremonial start in Mowbray Park, Sunderland, at 4pm on Friday, November 27.

The ceremonial finish will be at the Seaburn Centre between 4.30pm and 6pm on Sunday, November 29, followed by the trophy presentations.

Drivers from all over Europe are expected to enter the prestigious event, named after Roger Clark MBE, the first British driver to win a World Rally Championship event.

Competitors are limited to vehicles released prior to 1982 and the rally was launched in 2004.