The return of all-weather racing to Great Leighs in Essex grew closer to reality earlier this month when the local authority extended planning permission for existing floodlights (2 April).
This follows recent approval for a new grandstand — the infrastructure the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) requires before Great Leighs may re-enter the racing calendar.
However, the floodlighting met strong opposition from residents, parish councils and astronomy groups and its use has been capped at 130 occasions — well below the 365 days-a-year facility requested by owner MC Racetracks.
All objections were posted online. Some claimed that, when the floodlights were last used in 2008, they illuminated newsprint two miles away.
Others queried lighting for “training purposes” at 7am, when there are no racing yards locally, and the lack of local benefits, when the emphasis was on broadcasting racing to the Far East.
Great Leighs, on the former Essex County Showground near Chelmsford, was Britain’s first new racecourse in 80 years when opened in 2008.
Its racing facilities were deemed “world class” by trainer John Gosden, but critics slammed the incomplete facilities for racegoers.
After 40 fixtures, it was put into administration by the Royal Bank of Scotland in January 2009, owing £25million to the bank and 400 smaller creditors.
MC Racetracks acquired the track in 2011, announcing a revival of Essex County Show in 2013 — which is still unconfirmed.
Planning committee vice-chairman Richard Poulter said: “The floodlights are an economic necessity. With some reluctance and hesitation, I propose that the application is approved, subject to conditions.”
A BHA spokesman told H&H that Great Leighs’ licence application and participation in fixtures allocation for 2014 remains ongoing.
This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (18 April 2013)