Exclusive: British MotoGP to stay at Donington in 2016?

The British MotoGP could be set to stay at Donington Park in 2016 after continuing delays to starting work on the Circuit of Wales led the owners of the troubled project to put contingency plans in place, Motorcycle Deluxe can reveal.

Donington is due to host the race across the last weekend of August 2015 “on behalf of” the Circuit of Wales (CoW). But we now understand that, with work on the new facility not yet started thanks to planning delays, the famous Leicestershire track could also host the event in 2016.

A Circuit of Wales spokesman told us: “We have every intention to have phase one site-wide and circuit infrastructure ready for an event in 2016. If conditional factors do not allow us to achieve this objective, we have a contingency plan in place to host the event at a different location.”

She added that CoW was confident all the issues would be resolved in order to allow the project to get started, but conceded that time was now a factor.

In a linked development, we can also reassure fans who feared that Donington’s popular track layout may need to change in order to be granted a renewed licence to host MotoGP after a six year hiatus.

The Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM), which governs GP racing, has not asked for any changes to the track layout, or the popular parkland setting, ahead of a final inspection in the Spring of 2015, we can reveal.

FIM has already been consulted and has limited its track-related changes to areas such as retaining walls, barriers and gravel traps on which work has started, and work on other areas of the site which will be completed in drier weather.

Whilst Donington’s preparations for the 2015 race will be reassuring to race fans, the ongoing uncertainty and increasingly politically fractious nature of the Circuit of Wales project is likely to add to concerns about the long-term stability of the British fixture of bike racing’s Blue Riband event.

Circuit of Wales (CoW) bosses had insisted they would begin construction of the  £280 million track by December 2014 or January this year at the latest. MotoGP owner Dorna awarded the race to the proposed Welsh circuit after a bitter fall-out with Silverstone, which had hosted the huge event from 2009-2014. On paper, CoW will be home to the race between 2015 and 2020.

However, ongoing disputes over planning and funding mean that a public enquiry on de-registering “common land” at the site in Wales will only begin in March 2015 –  months behind initial schedules – and work on the site cannot begin in earnest before that concludes (and only then if it concludes in CoW’s favour). The enquiry has no formal end date, although most conclude in weeks, rather than months, depending on the level of objections.

The project’s spokesman said: “The Circuit of Wales is working with the Planning Inspectorate in deregistering the common land at Rassau, Blaenau Gwent. As part of the due process with the inspectorate, a public inquiry will be held in March this year. The process around the s16 submission is a lengthy one and we will continue to work with the Planning Inspectorate until a decision has been reached. The Circuit of Wales is on schedule to commence work on site in 2015 following the outcome of the s16 submission.”

A number of local groups have already objected to the planning applications by The Head of The Valleys Development Company (HVDC), which is the CoW’s developer, and questions have also been raised by Opposition parties in the Welsh Assembly (where Labour is the governing party), notably Plaid Cymru, over the proposed circuit’s funding, planning permissions and the overall transparency of the project.

 

Motorcycle Deluxe Opinion:

So, less than 20 months before the lights are supposed to go out to see Marquez and Lorenzo et al set off on the CoW start/finish straight, amid a glamourous new circuit, the project remains a series of muddy fields. Progress is mired, both literally and figuratively. What’s gone wrong, and how likely is it to be resolved?

The Head of The Valleys Development Company (HVDC), which is the CoW’s developer, had admitted to “frustrations”  with the planning process but it may well be politics, not planning, which cause concern.

Like everyone else involved in racing, we hope the project is a huge success. A new, state-of-the-art race circuit (for all kinds of motorsport) in the UK can only be a good thing; and particularly so in an area which desperately needs both the jobs and investment in high-tech businesses the circuit would bring.

But local authorities, regional government and party politics are a horrific mix, as many of us know from bitter experience. Right now the future of the CoW is bogged down in an increasingly bitter fight involving all three, plus, as if things weren’t bad enough, a heady extra mix of environmental campaigners, local landowners and furious residents.

The project hit a cash crisis in the summer and was bailed out with millions of pounds (we’re unsure exactly how many millions as nobody is willing to say, but we think around £50m) of taxpayers’ money by the Welsh Government, which is a Labour administration. So murky was this process that one Welsh minister was nabbed for breaching the Ministerial Code of Conduct.

Opposition parties, notably Plaid Cymru, demanded a debate in to the proposed circuit’s funding, planning permissions and the overall transparency of the project. By late June 2014 CoW was a very political hot potato in the Principality.

Amid this came the next problem – planning

Much of the site is designated “Common Land”, an ancient and important tag meaning, effectively, it belongs to everyone. An application to deregister it as such went to the planning authorities, only for the Welsh government to step in (again) amid allegations it had heard that inspectors were to reject the application. The decision will now rest on the outcome of a public enquiry due to start in March. There is no formal end date for that enquiry, although weeks rather than months would be normal.

We can’t know how that will go but we can presume that either way it’ll result in furious protests, claims of failures of impartiality and demands for judicial reviews.

A decision was expected by October, with CoW telling anyone who’d listen that construction would start in December or January, already behind schedule. No decision has been made, no building has started, but environmental campaigners have now added to the problems at hand by revealing a study showing the impact on bio-diversity the circuit would bring.

In the finest traditions of regional government, many in the current governing Welsh administration (itself not famous for its ability to deliver project management) are now having a happy time chucking blame and knives in the back about amongst themselves, whilst their political opponents wait to come in and bayonet survivors.

If there is to be a MotoGP in Wales in 2016 then we know, for certain, that a number of things must happen, probably within a very few weeks.

The planning issue must be sorted in such a way as not to lead to a political bun fight about transparency. Construction must begin. Those commercial partners whose investment is essential to have a functioning GP circuit in 2016 must have confidence in the process before further committing cash.

And all of this needs to happen against a background of brutal spending restrictions from central government down through regional and devolved administrations and local councils. If CoW does need more government cash, is a race circuit going to remain a spending priority in Wales when essential services are being squeezed?

Our revelation today that Donington Park in Leicestershire is set to get its top FIM licence back with no changes to track layout should reassure all of us that, whatever happens with CoW, the GP is safe is the UK (and let’s remember that Silverstone in Northamptonshire, which hosted successfully for five years until 2014, is also in the mix, if needed).

Most bike fans are happy to see the race back at Donington this year, it being long regarded as a “proper” bike track, rather than a converted F1 circuit, but what people want most of all is certainty that the British MotoGP, one of the country’s best attended and most prestigious sporting events, won’t fall between the cracks of Dorna’s greed on the one hand, and the mire of local politics on the other.

 

 

 

 

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