I’m on a family bike holiday in highland Perthshire and, while in the area, arranged to meet with Peter Hounam, the former chief investigative reporter at the Sunday Times. Hounam wrote some major news stories in the 1980s, but is now the main voice of ACRE, the NIMBY group which agitates against the Etape Caledonia.
The Etape is a closed-road sportive which starts in Pitlochry and has council-sanctioned highway closures for a few hours on a Sunday morning once a year.
ACRE stands for ‘anti closed roads event’ and has threatened to launch a legal challenge against Perth and Kinross council for allowing roads to be closed for what ACRE believes is a race. In fact, Etape Caledonia, like other UK sportives is more of a ‘fun run’ than a race.
At a cordial meeting at the Kenmore hotel in Kenmore on Monday night Hounam bought me a beer and put his side of the story. He agreed that many businesses in the Pitlochry area benefit from Etape Caledonia, and wholeheartedly support it, but he said businesses in other areas where the Etape passes are not so supportive.
He also said the event was imposed on locals by Perth and Kinross council which he claims often imposes ‘city’ views on rural Highland areas.
At the end of an entertaining hour – we also talked about Israel and the economics of newspapers – the subject of a Bollywood movie came up.
Tazz is a remake of Speed and there are signs all over the Pitlochry area warning road users of likely delays due to filming.
Hounam said the filming was good for the area’s businesses and a welcome imposition.
With a smile I suggested he must have changed his mind about road closures, as the movie was bound to impact on travel on the roads around the area. He smiled back, his argument about being against all closed road events not just cycle ones no longer as strong as it was.
Information boards by the roadside said there could be delays for two days thanks to the Bollywood film unit.
In fact, the delays have extended to a third day. I know this because we were held up earlier today. Myself, my wife and three kids were riding for 20 miles to reach Pitlochry railway station.
On Sustrans route 7, near Logierait, we joined a queue of cars, waiting behind a police road block. The car drivers, and us, were informed about the Bollywood filiming and that we wouldn’t be able to use the road ahead of us at that moment.
We had to wait for 15 minutes. This was not a problem. It’s not every day you stumble upon a Bollywood movie being made. The filming involved a black-clad rider on a quadbike being chased by three police cars.
A fourth police car was used to block the road so we couldn’t get past. (A fifth was blocking the way after the film crew).
The irony of ACRE supporting a Bollywood road closure, but being against a bicycle event road closure, was obvious.
OK, so we were prevented from using the public highway for only 15 minutes while those affected by Etape Caledonia are prevented for three hours but can ACRE ever again say it is against road closures in principle?