Donington Park could lose planning permission for £100m revamp
DONINGTON Park could lose planning permission for its £100m revamp - the latest twist in the ongoing saga surrounding the circuit.
North West Leicestershire District Council said today it would be reviewing its planning decision regarding the development of the track and pit and paddock area at the Castle Donington racing venue.
It comes 24 hours after the park's owner started legal proceedings against the leaseowner for £2.47m in unpaid rent arrears, demanding the lease be given up.
The track is due to host the showpiece F1 British Grand Prix next year but the latest twist casts further doubt on whether it will be ready in time.
At a planning meeting on May 5, a report from council officers will recommend members now refuse planning permission should a Section 106 agreement remain unsigned by the end of May.
In the meantime, officers will continue to do all they can to assist in securing the completion of the agreement, said a council spokeswoman.
Council leader Richard Blunt said: “The council has already extended the deadline for signing the agreement by another month, allowing four months in total, and has continued to work with Donington Park to meet the deadlines and terms of the permission.
“We can’t keep extending the deadline for signing the agreement. Donington Park has already started construction and to allow further, unchecked construction to take place may make the original planning permission invalid and any future control the council may wish to retain over events would be severely diluted.
“We are disappointed that, despite the council making every effort to accommodate Donington Park, the council has had to take this action. We must have a consistent approach to the planning process and the Donington Park application is being handled in the same way we would any other development.”
Planning permission was granted at a Special Planning Committee meeting in January subject to a Section 106 agreement and it was agreed by Donington Park that this would be completed by the end of March.
The agreement was to secure the submission and implementation of event management plans, including in respect of travel and aviation safety for the nearby East Midlands Airport.
Other areas it includes are the routeing of construction traffic, the controlled use of the proposed club house and pit building and the implementation of an environmental action plan.
Discussions have been held over the possibility of keeping the F1 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, according to British Racing Drivers’ Club president Damon Hill.
The BRDC own the Northamptonshire circuit, which will host its final scheduled grand prix this summer after losing the rights to Donington Park from 2010.
However, doubts have emerged about the viability of the Castle Donington track as a venue after owner Tom Wheatcroft started proceedings against Simon Gillett’s company, Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd, which has a 150-year lease of the track.
Wheatcroft is seeking £2.47m in rent arrears as well as forfeiture of the track lease.
Formula One rights holder Bernie Ecclestone sanctioned the move to Donington and has been a vocal critic of Silverstone.
Yesterday he insisted: “There is no question of us going back. They (Silverstone) have had enough chances and have not delivered what they promised.”
But Hill, a former world champion, today claimed the BRDC had not given up hope of saving the country’s most prestigious motorsport event.
“We’ve had communications. There’s always been an open line of communication between ourselves and Bernie," he said.
“We’re very keen on Formula One and Silverstone has a long history with Formula One, so we’ve always tried to keep the door open.”
Ecclestone branded the British Government “a disgrace” yesterday for failing to invest in Formula One at a time when several of the races on the calendar are largely state-funded.
The future of the British Grand Prix could be decided at Derby County Court on June 8.
That is the date when Donington Park's owner will face-off with its leaseholder over an alleged £2.47m in unpaid rent dating back to September 2008.
Legal proceedings were issued at the court yesterday by Wheatcroft & Son against Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd.
The legal proceedings were started by lawyers at Browne Jacobson, acting on behalf of Tom and Kevin Wheatcroft.
Kevin said: "We have held off taking legal action for as long as possible, but have been left with no choice but to commence proceedings."
Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd, which took over the 150-year lease in 2007, signed a 10-year deal to host the grand prix in Castle Donington nine months ago.
It began a £100m revamp in preparation for the first race next summer but has repeatedly refused to confirm exact details of how it is being funded.
An Evening Telegraph reporter last night quizzed Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd chief executive Simon Gillett about whether the race was in jeopardy.
Mr Gillett, who was at the House of Lords to discuss the future of the British Grand Prix, said he was unavailable to talk but would comment at a later date.
F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said the row cast an unwanted shadow over the future of Britain's showpiece motor racing event.
Ecclestone, who is a friend of Tom Wheatcroft, has repeatedly said that if Donington Park is not ready, there will be no British Grand Prix from next year.
North West Leicestershire District Council granted Mr Gillett planning permission to transform the circuit in January.
Although work began immediately, events have had to be cancelled due to the track not being given a safety certificate by the Motor Sports Association.
Gerald Dalby, who represents Castle Donington on the district council, said: "When Mr Gillett has spoken he has always been very determined. I'm quite sure he will do his utmost to make sure it will happen, but I can't see that this is going to be resolved quickly."
Peers gave their backing to the British Grand Prix in the House of Lords yesterday, claiming it was a vital source of income for the country and East Midlands, but they ruled out providing state aid.