The Trail was extended in February when the Town Quay Bridge, linking Newton Abbot and Kingsteignton opened. The new section runs parallel to the back straight, in an agreement in which the racecourse agreed a 125-year lease for a portion of land to Devon County Council. The racecourse receives the grand sum of £1 a year.
In the first month since the bridge opened. More than 3,000 people cycled across it, and a similar number walked along the section by the track. But the racecourse section is closed off for safety reasons when a race meeting takes place. Despite extensive advertising of this, managing director Pat Masterson told This is Exeter that he received several complaints following the closures on Easter Saturday. He said, “It was two to three hundred people kicking off because they knew nothing about it. It is not my responsibility to make the public aware of it. It is the council's responsibility.”
Masterson says the gates have to close because he cannot afford the costs of manning the area with stewards on race days. “I do not expect my staff to be abused by the general public when we close the gates. We have given over the land by good grace and this should be respected.”
More worrying for Masterson is the substantial amount of vandalism that has occurred since that section of the Trail opened. It has become so serious that he has said he may close it altogether if things don’t improve. As evidence of the danger to horses and jockeys he referred to photographs on Facebook, which had been posted by a group of children who had been jumping on one of the fences, causing hundreds of pounds worth of damage.
Masterson set out the scale of the problem, saying, “We are appalled at the additional vandalism caused to the racecourse since the opening of the cycle track with children trespassing on the track, jumping on fences, throwing rocks on to the racetrack and more. We are constantly having people coming on to the racecourse and doing criminal damage by smashing signs and throwing rocks. We are asking staff to go out and pick up rocks being thrown from the railway embankment. I walked the course the other day and found a broken plate on the course.”
Masterson says that it is within his power to close that part of the trail permanently, as he hasn’t yet signed the lease, but it is the last thing he wants to do and that the racetrack is “working extremely hard with everybody concerned to sort it out.”
The key partner in keeping the £3 million scheme open is Devon County Council, which has promised to monitor the vandalism. A spokesman said, “The co-operation of the racecourse has made this trail and bridge possible and we are working closely with them to address this issue of vandalism. We would also ask for the local community to work with us and report to the police anyone seen causing damage to the racecourse or trail."
I was walking that stretch of the trail myself yesterday, (you can't today, as there's racing at Newton Abbot) and it is a really beautiful stretch of river estuary and coastline. Let’s hope that a solution is found so that everyone can continue share its benefits.