Bike fans uspet Essex villagers

HOARDES of high-speed bikers searching for somewhere to meet are tearing a quiet north Essex community apart.Some residents in the village of Great Bentley, near Clacton, have become so fearful of the now traditional Wednesday night swarm of up to 1,000 motorbike enthusiasts that they have made plans to stay away from their homes.

HOARDES of high-speed bikers searching for somewhere to meet are tearing a quiet north Essex community apart.

Some residents in the village of Great Bentley, near Clacton, have become so fearful of the now traditional Wednesday night swarm of up to 1,000 motorbike enthusiasts that they have made plans to stay away from their homes.

But others claim the village benefits from the much-needed trade the bikers bring.

For years, the huge village green, which is reputed to be the largest in England, has acted as a weekly magnet for hundreds of bike lovers who meet up to catch up on each other's news and admire each other's machines.

Despite the existence of ancient bylaws which ban bikes from the green, horrified residents have watched and listened helplessly as their precious space is invaded.

Police have not acted within the bylaws because they believe it is safer to have the bikes off the surrounding roads where many riders have been killed in the past few years. Whenever possible the police try to attend and ensure bollards are put down to guide the bikers to safer areas.

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The previous motor-biking landlord of The Plough Inn, which is just off the green, unwittingly began the invasion when he invited a few biker friends around each Wednesday in the summer.

Word spread through bike magazines and on the internet and as a result the numbers of bikers visiting the village soared.

Villagers are set to discover the results of a public referendum organised by Mary Maskell, editor of the local newsletter, to gauge village opinion on then issue late next week.

One resident, who did not want to be named, said: "It's our village, not theirs. Some of their behaviour is disgusting.

"They come into my drive to turn around and I've even caught them urinating up against my garage door. They get quite aggressive if you say anything.

"I've seen up to 1,000 bikes here sometimes and because of the size of it, you get people now coming along, setting up stalls and turning into a general fair – it's not what we need.

"I'm a biker myself and go on rallies, but some of this lot just give us a bad name. We're pleased when it rains on a Wednesday night – it shouldn't be like that, should it?"

Donald Walker, who lives near the green, called for the "responsible" bikers to form their own properly constituted club that could then apply to use the green once every month during the summer.

He said: "The village has been split on this and we need to act."

"One evening, we need to set up a speaker system on the green and appeal to them to act in a formal way like anybody else who wishes to use the green. At the moment, it's totally disorganised.

"For four hours they roar and rev their engines. It's too much, there are simply too many of them."

Lynda McWilliams, Great Bentley Parish Council chairman said: "As a council we have a duty to enforce the bye-laws, but that in itself is not simple.

"We would have to take down the number plates, send them to the DVLC to get their names and addresses and then issue fines individually.

"If they didn't pay, we would have problems collecting the money – we'd probably have to go through the courts and use bailiffs. It's a real problem."

However, bikers and some locals defended the weekly visits saying they caused no harm to the village.

Philip Sells, 32, a biker from Harwich, said: "I've been coming here year after year whenever I can manage it. It's a really friendly, no one's got a problem.

"Most people put their bikes on the green – there's nowhere else to put them."

Ian Webster, 47, from Colchester, admitted that there were some "idiots", but he said generally there was never any trouble.

He said: "I've got the world's fastest production motorbike here, but you won't see me do any wheelies – I just come for the chat.

"People who complain about us putting the bikes on the green, well they're just the idiots who play cricket on it. At least the bikes help to air the green."

Lesley Thompson, landlady at The Plough Inn, said: "It's just like a family outing for them. I have heard some complaints about mess, but on Thursday mornings, we're up at the crack of dawn, clearing up cigarette butts and the like.

"All the locals love it and they're the heart and soul of the village – they bring their kids to have a look."

Pc Paul Mead from Essex Police, who regularly patrols the Wednesday night gathering recently told villagers: "If the motorcycles are parked on the roads surrounding the green, there is an increased risk of an individual being injured by passing traffic.

"With the motorcycles parked off the roads this risk is obviously greatly reduced."

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