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When riders in the Tour de France race from Leeds to Harrogate in North Yorkshire this weekend they will arrive to find the spa town caught up in cycling fever. Locals have knitted race jerseys to string up as bunting, old bikes have been painted yellow and, for the past 100 days, the Yorkshire Festival has held a series of concerts, galas and Anglo-French cultural events in preparation for the arrival of cyclists such as Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish and Vincenzo Nibali. Some people in Harrogate are also hoping to use the Tour to make a tidy profit: could the race, they wonder, transform a prime housing market that has struggled to find its feet since the 2008 crash?
“For Harrogate, the Tour de France is the biggest event that will ever have happened there,” says Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, which is responsible for bringing the Tour to Britain. The economic impact could be “transformational”, he adds. Consultants at PwC estimate the county could be in line for £100m in increased revenue from a total spend of £21m – a bill roughly shared between local authorities and a £10m grant from UK Sport, and which includes local infrastructure improvements and road resurfacing.
The route encompasses much of the county. Starting in Leeds on day one, riders will head north through Skipton and Reeth before finishing in Harrogate. On day two, the route starts in York and travels through Knaresborough, before passing back through Harrogate, then through Keighley and Huddersfield to finish in Sheffield.
“There’s definitely a buzz about the place,” says Tony Wright, head of the Harrogate office of national property consultancy Carter Jonas, which staged a charity bike ride in May called the Pedathalon.
Local businesses are looking to cash in on the race: pubs and restaurants are offering Tour-themed food and drinks, while Bettys Café Tea Rooms – a Harrogate institution – is producing special ranges of chocolate and biscuit teddies decked out in the race’s yellow, green and red polka-dot jerseys. Bettys has even been helping its staff to brush up on their French. “We want to make sure people from all over the world get a real Yorkshire welcome,” says Hazel Bone, of Bettys.
Yet will the economic excitement raised by the Tour’s two days in Yorkshire translate into higher house prices? In 2010, Newport in south Wales staged the Ryder Cup golf tournament which, according to a survey by IFM Sports, boosted the Welsh economy by £84.2m that year. However, research from Savills shows that the revenue brought in by the event and the purpose-built Celtic Manor hotel and golf course failed to spur the local housing market. In fact, prices in Newport have dropped 6.4 per cent since the tournament.
Local agents in Harrogate are quietly upbeat. “I think the Tour could really open up the town to national and international buyers,” says Wright. “It’s going to be phenomenal for the tourism industry. As for the knock-on effects, who knows?”
It is a potential uplift that the local market certainly needs since, according to Knight Frank, average house prices in Harrogate are down 2.9 per cent on pre-crash levels. While the prime property sector (homes priced at more than £1m) has been growing recently, rising 5.1 per cent on last year, it is still down 11.8 per cent over the past five years and is underperforming the rest of North Yorkshire by 8.9 per cent.
Much of the housing stock in central Harrogate is Victorian, with family town houses typically selling for about £700,000. On Leeds Road, Knight Frank is offering a seven-bedroom home overlooking the Stray, a 200-acre area of open grassland in the town centre, for £2.95m. In Fewston, nine miles to the west, Knight Frank is selling Swinsty Hall, a six-bedroom, Grade I-listed manor house with a two-bedroom cottage for £3.75m.
Some local homeowners are also trying to make a quick buck from the Tour. Some are simply renting out their homes to tourists for accommodation or parking, while Lord Harewood is officially staging part of the race at his country estate, building corporate grandstands and hosting a three-day event called the Festival of Cycling. This weekend Harewood plans to welcome 13,000 paying guests – 700 of whom will be corporate guests paying up to £395 each. Christopher Newton, who is managing the event, thinks it could pull in a net profit of £75,000. “The idea is to use that money to fund another cycling event next year. It won’t be on the same scale, it won’t have the corporate sponsors, but we’re looking to start a high-level cycle race at Harewood as a legacy for the Tour.”
After leaving Britain, the Tour will travel mostly through France, with sections in Belgium and Spain, before finishing in Paris on July 27. Economic expectations in these areas are much lower than in the UK.
Estate agent Ian Purslow has more than 20 years’ experience of the property market in Gascony, southwest France, and although he understands the excitement in the UK – especially since the success of British riders such as Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins – he thinks there is a limit to the economic benefit a host town can expect. “In France many of the major towns, especially those near the mountain stages, receive the Tour on a regular basis,” he says. “There is local razzmatazz for a few days in these ‘Villes Etapes’ aiming to boost local tourism and produce, but increased house prices would be taking it too far.”
If it could, he concedes, it would be a welcome injection. According to figures from Knight Frank, house prices in southwest France are 30 to 40 per cent lower than their 2007 peak.
In Gascony, near stage 19 of the Tour, Knight Frank is selling a five-bedroom house for €1.4m. The property was built in 1822 and includes a converted, two-bedroom pigeonnier (dovecote), a three-bedroom cottage and 80 acres of land.
In the Dordogne, near stage 20, the same agent is selling Le Cririer, a 160-acre, 18th-century estate with a six-bedroom main house and a stable block with 20 horse boxes for €3.65m.
“We have seen more activity in places like Gascony in the last three months,” says Matthew Hodder-Williams, head of Knight Frank’s southwest France division. “Younger buyers are coming in to buy in areas around Toulouse, which is growing fairly rapidly – but we’re going to need quite a few exceptional years before supply and demand reach any sort of equilibrium. Will the Tour help that? Probably not.”
Back in Yorkshire, whether the Tour provides the £100m revenue uplift or not, Simon Brereton from Leeds City Council thinks the event has already been a success.
“When it comes to costing a sporting event like the Tour de France, people feel obliged to say that there is going to be a massive benefit to the local economy, but the truth is its incredibly hard to determine,” he says. “What you can say for certain, though, is that it’s got people excited about Yorkshire and it’s got local businesses talking to one another . . . It has already been beneficial for the area, I think. How well that translates to pounds, shillings and pence is another matter.”
What you can buy for . . .
€500,000 A three-bedroom penthouse apartment in a high-end development in Leeds city centre
€1m A five-bedroom family home in a North Yorkshire village with a large garden
€2m A substantial, seven-bedroom manor house near Ampleforth with several outbuildings and up to 20 acres
€500,000 A modest, two-bedroom terrace near the start of the Tour de France route in the Mill Road area of central Cambridge
€1m A three-bedroom, semi-detached, Victorian property in the Newnham area, southwest of the city centre
€2m A four-bedroom family home near the city’s Botanic Garden and The Perse independent school
€500,000 A large, renovated, two-bedroom apartment in Vieux Lille, the Old Town
€1m A tasteful villa in Villeneuve-d’Ascq, a commune just to the east of Lille
€2m A decent country estate or a charming château south of Lille with about 10 acres
€500,000 A large, four-bedroom family home in Cerdanya, near the Spanish-French border
€1m A historic, six-bedroom home outside Girona that has been restored to a very high standard
€2m A seven-bedroom country house in the Catalan Pyrenees with anything up to 1,000 acres of land
Photographs: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com