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Racing on 04.02.2023
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Cheltenham: Code of Conduct under discussion

It`s still a few months away from the Cheltenham Festival in March, but even so, the obstacle event is already stirring things up in England. Police have warned that escalating drug use, anti-social behaviour and violence against women during Cheltenham Festival week are serious issues that need to be addressed ahead of next year`s event.

Gloucestershire Police Commissioner Chris Nelson chaired a meeting at the racecourse with the borough council, MPs Alex Chalk and Laurence Robertson and the Jockey Club to set out an action plan to tackle the problems in the town during the four biggest days of the festival.

Anti-social behaviour, which includes alcohol, was the main issue raised by residents, with urinating in gardens and parks a problem for some residents. Restricting the opening hours of pubs and bars to combat drunkenness was discussed but not seen as a main issue at the meeting.

Instead, there will be more focus on tackling the rise in illegal drug use, with Nelson promising to crack down on the use of cannabis and cocaine during the week. Police have noticed drugs being transported into the city during the four-day meeting, particularly on trains, and are already taking action to combat the problem.

Nelson said, "Cheltenham has a bit of a problem; [the use of] recreational drugs like cannabis and cocaine is unfortunately increasing and I think too many people think that doesn`t have negative consequences. It leads to all sorts of other crimes.

"There are a whole range of measures we can take to combat drugs; I will definitely pay more attention to that. When you use both drugs and alcohol, you no longer have control. I am very keen to make sure that changes are made.

According to a 2021 Cheltenham Borough Council survey, 75 per cent of women feel unsafe on the town`s streets at night during festival week - a three per cent increase on usual weeks - and curbing misogynistic behaviour and violence is a priority for Nelson`s team.

"I have spoken to many women. They get touched, there is misogynistic behaviour when someone is drunk," Nelson continued. "That`s the kind of behaviour women are afraid of during race week; the community survey showed that quite a high number of women feel uncomfortable. That`s one of my priorities."

The action plan agreed on more temporary toilets on the routes from the town to the racecourse, additional signage and track marshals to control the area.

The final stage of the consultation process also raised the prospect of a fifth day of the festival. Chalk and Robertson were in favour of this prospect when asked by the Racing Post last month, but from a policing point of view it would present a challenge.

"It would be an extra burden on the police and a serious burden," Nelson said. "What happens is that other things in the police have to be put on the back burner, so it would not be without consequences.

"I haven`t seen any official response from the police. The police are working with the local community and if that`s what they, the council and the business community want then I don`t think they would say no. This year`s Cheltenham Festival attracted a record 280,627 spectators.

The Racecourse Pioneer

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
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