Working with the Local Council, SAG’s and Highways

assorted-color signage lot on road during daytime

Setting up your first road race can be tough. Closing roads for events is no easy feat, but if you make the right contacts, stick to strict timelines and befriend your local community to become your cheerleaders you’ll be on track for success. 

Initial contact with the Local Council 

You will need to get permission from your local council if you want to hold an event in the high street, a public park, or on roads – ask to speak to their events, parks or communities team. Contact them as soon as possible as it takes time for them to consider it properly. The amount of time needed to consider an application varies from council to council, and you can find this information on their websites. If it is not on council property you will need permission from the owner, which might be a housing association, schools or business. Your council will work with you to ensure a smooth and safe event as soon as you submit an application; so the earlier you speak with them, the more they can help to make it happen. If you can’t give the amount of notice they require, then your council may still be able to consider your application or suggest an alternative location.

Working with Safety Advisory Groups (SAG’s)

If you’ve been to one, or have heard of other race directors talk about SAG meetings, they don’t often elicit ‘good vibes’ as far as meetings go. They can often rather seem to represent SAG in the sense of  ‘Scary and Gory’ with the faces of several authoritative bodies criticising every aspect of your event. BUT there is good reason to keep them on your good side, for the sake of your participant's safety and for help with the future of your event. 

SAG’s are usually made up of representatives from the local authority such as environmental health, licensing, emergency services such as police and fire departments and other relevant bodies. SAGs provide a platform for discussing and advising on public safety and concerns at an event. They aim to help event organisers with the planning, and management of an event and to encourage cooperation and coordination between all relevant agencies.

They are non-statutory bodies and so do not have legal powers or responsibilities, and are not empowered to approve or prohibit events from taking place.  However, they can raise their concerns to the licensing authorities. It is the event organiser’s responsibility to take any appropriate action to alleviate these concerns.

The guiding principle is that races presenting a significant public safety risk (whether in terms of numbers and profile of people attending, or the nature of the event activity and/or the challenge of the environment) should be considered for a SAG. Eg. races where participants will use public roads in large numbers, and/or if a festival-style event is being adopted at the finish line with licensing requirements. 

Attendance of the event organiser at SAG meetings may be voluntary or required by the Local Authority as a condition of using their land. There is however benefits to be gained from engagement in the SAG process from the outset.

Event organisers may be asked to extend their duty past the boundaries of an event site to include the impact on the local transport network and civil contingencies in the event of an emergency.  The advice provided by the SAG and any decisions taken should be proportionate to the risk profile of the event.

Here are a couple of tips when working with Safety Advisory Groups:

  1. Always try attend a SAG meeting as a race director using public land and/or roads, if invited to. This is very beneficial for a few reasons. It shows that you are invested in the safe running of your event and is a great opportunity to meet the representatives in the person of the Local Authority.  The main benefit though is that you will be on hand to deal with any questions or concerns about your event there and then. This definitely helps to speed up the overall process and to help bring all parties around.
  2. Be honest about your intentions and what you’re planning on delivering.  Don’t say or promise things that you think people who are sat around the table want to hear, as these may form some of the basic conditions of your license application and you will need to deliver on them.
  3. Be consistent with communication with the local authority and other agencies involved.  The more you keep people in the loop with updates the less people will react negatively to big surprises.

Applying for road closures

If you want your race to use closed roads, you will need to get permission from the Highways Department of your council. Much of this will become clear when interacting with your local SAG. It will be easier to close a cul-de-sac than a main through route, but emergency services will always need to be able to get down the street.

Your council will require you to arrange and place appropriate road signs and barriers. The signs will need to comply with Regulations, but this needn’t be difficult. Some councils lend you the signs, and others will be able to tell you where you can hire them. There may be a charge to cover the council’s costs for checking the feasibility of closing the road. Councils keep this as low as possible, and some waive it entirely for larger events that have been going for years and are truly integrated. 

Provided you are not looking to close a large main road which provides key access to town, block large business parks or residential areas, or would cause serious disruption in the middle of the week or on busy holiday days, the council and highways department will usually be willing to work with you to put on a safe event on traffic-free roads. 

Planning and documentation

Before the council and/or Highways can approve anything, you will have to do a lot of planning and put together a comprehensive ‘Event Management Plan’ that you will be able to execute on the day. In this you will need to include a section about how you will manage the traffic management aspect of the event, and once this has been reviewed and approved, then they will be able to accept your application for closures. 

You should think carefully about how you can make your event as safe as possible. A risk assessment will also be required for your overall event and should include aspects of the traffic management. This will help you to consider what could happen if certain parts of your closures aren’t managed properly and live traffic mixes with your runners, if people could trip, otherwise hurt themselves and then how you could prevent it happening. If your event begins to get bigger and attracts numbers over 1000, getting some professional help such as an external ‘Health and Safety Officer’ to aid your planning as part of your team could help manage this and prevent future problems. It will also be helpful to have someone experienced to discuss your plans with. 

Having an experienced team

Having an experienced team to help you execute your plans is key to managing your event safely and gaining the support of the council and highways. If they see that the event is just organised by one person with a handful of volunteers, they will have more cause for concern. Building an experienced event team doesn’t have to be expensive and can give you peace of mind for the safety of your event so that you can focus on other things, like growing your race. Here are some roles which are great to have as part of your core race team for road races, in particular for larger ones: 

  1. Race Director. This role is the broadest in the sense that in includes managing all the roles below too. Keeping tabs on the event timetable to make sure everything is running on schedule, the registration team to ensure all bib numbers have been given out and starting pens are being managed, stewards have all been deployed and are in position. This role is vast but with the help of the below can be made less stressful. 
  2. Traffic Management Officer. If you’re organising a closed road race, depending on how many miles of road you are closing and the impact which that is having on traffic, you will needhelp from one or more persons to manage this on the day. There are several dedicated companies out there that can help you implement traffic management systems including hiring equipment nad providing qualified staff to interact with traffic at closure points. They can take a lot of the stress out of the planning and management provided its done enough in advance. 
  3. Health and Safety Officer. A dedicated person to help manage the events health and safety can be extremely useful for writing risk assesments, assisting the efficiency of your aid stations and identifying potential problems. By having them liase with your medical team, you can reduce some of your on the day logistics. If you’re planning on having traders and a stage at your event too, the assembling, dismanteling and power sources that go with those arrangements also need to be carefully looked at. These will be scrutinized by the council so having a risk assessment to go with these is very helpful to gain different parties' approval. 
  4. Communications Manager. If you are looking to have different press agencies, local papers, internal photographers and videographers at your event, managing all of these alongside your job as a race director can be a challenge. So having someone who can dedicate their time to managing communications can be a hugely beneficial to getting as much coverage on your event as possible, taking advantage of in the moment marketing and making sure your photo and video shots are as good as they can be.

Medical Planning

There’s no perfect protocol for emergency services at endurance events, but going without a plan is a rookie mistake that can jeopardize not only a new race director’s reputation, but also the safety of his or her participants. You should make sure to include plans for medical cover in your event management plan to present to the council. 

  1. For small events: Prepare statements and maps of road closures, blocked areas, and entrances to relay to emergency medical services if you need to call 999. Make sure you have at least one person who can perform first aid at your event, and that they can get around easily. Make sure their number is available to all stewards and staff.
  2. For large events: Consider hiring a local ambulance to sit at the finish line, or a specialized medical company to do the preplanning for you.
  3. For trail events: Contact volunteer search and rescue groups to stage resources and staff at your event. Often, they will provide services for an agreed-upon donation to their organization

In Conclusion

Having the right people on your team, up to date documents and being honest about your planning will get you the support you need from your local authority. Staying in regular contact with them can help you avoid any last-minute permit refusals and will build your relationship with them for future events. 

On Hand To Help

The team at eventrac are on hand to assist with all components of your event. From advice on promoting your event through low cost channels such as social media, to a guided tutorial on a specific feature of eventrac. We are here to help.

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