Council says yes to Brands Hatch GP plan

Brands Hatch cleared another major hurdle in its bid to bring the 2002 British Grand Prix back to Kent when its planning application was passed by Sevenoaks District Council last night (Monday)

Council says yes to Brands Hatch GP plan

After a four-hour meeting, the council's Development Control Sub-committee voted 12 to six in favour of allowing Brands Hatch Leisure to modify the layout of its existing Grand Prix circuit and to build a new pits complex, media centre and several new grandstands to meet the requirements of the FIA, motorsport's governing body. However, since the development is on greenbelt land, final approval must come from the Secretary of State for the Environment, John Prescott, before work can commence.

Sources say that this may not be a formality: although BHL, which has a six-year contract and an option for a further five years, has calculated that the Grand Prix will bring in excess of £30 million and 3000 temporary jobs to Kent every year, opponents argue that this is to the detriment of the area around Silverstone in Northants, the present location of the race.

It is understood that a letter was sent by the Secretary of State's office to Sevenoaks District Council prior to the meeting stressing that the council did not have the right to grant final permission. However, should the Secretary of State veto the application - and a decision is expected within a month - BHL's contract allows it to place the race at the location of its choice.

Opponents of the scheme argued that the development and the running of a Grand Prix would bring increased noise, traffic chaos and the destruction of several hectares of ancient woodland. However, proponents of the scheme, and BHL itself, argued that in return for three 'noisy days' - the Grand Prix meeting itself - the circuit would have more days with zero track activity than ever before, and that it would be more accountable to the local community through the setting up of a number of working groups with the power to take the circuit to court over any non-compliance issues.

Councillor Edward Quaife, vice-chairman of the committee and proposer of the application, said: "Yes, Brands Hatch is in a green belt, but its very presence is a special circumstance. The British Grand Prix is an event we should all be proud to have here once again.

"In return for three days of Formula 1, we as a council have increased control for the rest of the year. We can learn from our past problems and take a pro-active and positive stance. And with the expected turnover from Formula 1, BHL will have more than enough money to honour its commitments."

Rob Bain, chief executive of BHL, said: "We have carried out an exhaustive consulting process with the council, the local community and wildlife organisations and we believe our plan delivers major benefits to the community."

Despite several leading Formula 1 teams stressing the need for up to 60 days of testing at the track, Sevenoaks District Council confirmed that no extra testing would be allowed under the terms of the agreement.

The scale of the re-development means that up to 15 hectares of woodland will be lost within the Brands Hatch site. However, BHL is committed to planting 40 hectares of replacement trees on several sites in the local area, including approximately eight hectares at Brands Hatch itself.

Anti-noise measures proposed in the scheme include the building of a noise-retaining wall around the Grand Prix loop and strategic tree-planting around the site. BHL says it will also offer to buy the houses of residents nearest to the circuit at twice the market price and fit triple-glazing to properties most affected by the scheme.

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