04 December 2005

Marathon date change plan 'is a non-runner'

Sunday Life

04 December 2005

SIR Hugh Orde has run into trouble in his bid to have the date of next year's Belfast Marathon changed.

The Chief Constable - a keen marathon runner himself - would like the traditional May Day event rescheduled and run the Sunday before.

But his views have cut no ice with members of the city council's community and recreation committee.

They are already planning a gala occasion for what will be the Belfast Marathon's 25th anniversary - and have made it clear that any change of date is a non-runner.

During this year's race, dissident republicans left an explosive device on the route in a bid to assassinate Sir Hugh.

Thousands of runners, including the Chief Constable, had already set off on the 26-mile course and had to be diverted when the device was discovered - at Gideon's Green in Newtownabbey.

But Sir Hugh's main concern about the Bank Holiday event has been the soaring cost of policing it.

Chief Superintendent Wesley Wilson revealed in a letter to the council last week that the cost of policing the 2005 race was a staggering £45,000.

Mr Wilson, who is head of operational command units in urban regions, pointed out that police overtime automatically doubled because the event was staged on the Bank Holiday Monday.

He suggested it should be run 24 hours earlier which would "significantly" reduce costs.

And his letter added: "With the reduced costs, we would be in a stronger financial position to offer continued long-term support for this event."

But councillor Jim Rodgers, a member of the community and recreation committee, said yesterday: "I can well understand policing pressures - it's a matter that Sir Hugh himself has raised in the past.

"But there is simply no way we are prepared to change the traditional date from Bank Holiday Monday.

"The Belfast Marathon is now more popular than ever in terms of competitors and spectators and plans are well underway to mark next year's 25th anniversary."

The issue is to go before the full council next month.

But Mr Rodgers added: "I can't see the decision being overturned and I earnestly hope it isn't."

The marathon organisers are, like earlier this year, planning further changes to the route following complaints from competitors.

It is also expected that next year's race will go through both the Falls and the Shankill.

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