A SECOND British racecourse was left teetering on the edge of extinction as Folkestone hosted its last fixture for the foreseeable future yesterday.
Just two days earlier, Hereford closed with owner Arena Racing Company (ARC) believing the 17 years left on the lease from the local council did not justify the venue being kept open.
Folkestone, another ARC course, is also not said to be financially viable but some hope remains that closing could only be temporary. The county of Kent now no longer has a racecourse, following the closure of Wye in 1974.
Folkestone has staged meetings since 1898 and ARC claimed operations could continue if more than 800 homes were built on the site, with the funds directed to update facilities and move the position of the course.
A proposal was submitted to Shepway District Council but has been left out of their core strategy for future development. The council say they are still open to discussions.
ARC’s chairman Michael Howard, a former long-serving MP for Folkestone and Hythe, believes a lifeline could be given by the council including in their strategy some general wording about future developments which, if approved, would enable more detailed plans to be proposed.
Howard said: “Arena made clear in 2007 that the racecourse was not viable in its present state and we made a proposal for the redevelopment to the council, but the inspector didn’t like it. If we can get some words in the core strategy proposal, which will be finalised when the inspector makes a decision in the next few months, then we could be in business. This means we can start talking to the council again, so we can keep the door open.
“If the inspector continues to be very negative and refuses to put the language in, then it makes it very difficult.”
Howard cannot envisage racing returning for a couple of years. He said: “I’ve had some very happy times at Folkestone and I very much hope it can continue. Newbury proposed a redevelopment in order to make themselves financially viable, and that’s what we hope to do. It would be very sad if it doesn’t happen.”
ARC’s assistant racing director (south) Jim Allen added: “There will be two full-time groundsmen kept on, and one site manager. It isn’t quite the same as Hereford, which is being maintained as a racecourse and would look exactly the same if it re-opened. Here we will be taking the running rail down and removing the fences.
“Five people have been made redundant – the groundstaff were offered jobs elsewhere but some were unable to drive to work at (sister course) Lingfield – and Emma Santer, the racecourse manager, has found alternative employment. The fall in the Levy has seen racecourses not making money. We have no plans to do anything with any of the others.”
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