Fierce local opposition to 'monstrous' development plan
The Jockey Club was warned on Wednesday to expect fierce opposition to its plans to close Kempton Park for a housing development with the local council said to be 100 per cent against the proposal because of its location on green belt land.
As leading members of the jumps community lined up behind Nicky Henderson to object to proposals which would result in the historic King George VI Chase being relocated to Sandown, one area representative said it would go ahead "over my dead body".
Henderson's call for the "defenders of National Hunt racing" to fight the closure of Kempton, which was first opened in 1878, drew the support of Grand National-winning trainer Oliver Sherwood and Colin Tizzard, winner of last month's King George with Thistlecrack.
Tizzard said: "I am right behind Nicky Henderson and Oliver Sherwood in any campaign to save Kempton.
"Boxing Day at Kempton is part of our tradition. There are massive crowds and it's part of our history and heritage.
"You can build 2,000-3,000 houses anywhere. A lot of people are going to make a lot of money out of selling our heritage. Kempton is also in the right position in the country. Do they need to sell a racecourse to build another Flat all-weather course? I will be supporting anything to keep Kempton."
Kempton has been designated green belt since 1956, includes an area that has been declared of special scientific interest due to its wildlife, while the leader of the Conservative controlled council Ian Harvey has also repeated his opposition to development of the racecourse.
John Brooks, assistant head of planning for policy at Spelthorne, said the Jockey Club proposal would be considered with others at the appropriate time, but added: "We are not obliged to accept any that are put to us but it is part of the process.
"The racecourse sits in a not particularly large gap between the built area of Sunbury and built area of London and Kempton Park occupies a substantial part of that gap. If green belts are there to separate towns a chunk like that narrows the gap fundamentally.
"Our current policy is very firmly against [bulding on] the green belt. Clearly we have to prepare a new local plan and we can't start making pronouncements about what the plan will or not do. There are some very clear directions about national policy on green belt and we have to come up with the plan that seeks to meet needs but is also in line with national policy."
However a Spelthorne councillor who asked not to be named described the plan as "monstrous".
"Without exception every single borough councillor in this area is implacably opposed to any development on Kempton Park and always has been, as are the residents," he said.
"The only way in which I think it could happen is if a planning application were put in by Redrow and it was turned down, which it will do because it's green belt, and it went to the planning inspector, who overrode it. In no other circumstances does anybody in Spelthorne have the slightest intention of allowing either green belt land to be included within the local plan nor specifically Kempton Park being included. It's absolutely a no-go area.
"The law is clear in that green belt land will only be released in very exceptional circumstances. Building a load of houses to make somebody rich are not very exceptional circumstances. Neither do we need the houses or the money. No one can ever say never, but as far as I'm concerned it will be over my dead body."
Sherwood urged colleagues to rally together and engage in talks with The Jockey Club to save Kempton as a racecourse.
But Jonjo O'Neill, who has won the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton twice as a jockey and twice as a trainer, believes the closure plan would bring long-term benefits
"I'd be sad to see Kempton close, but you have to move on and £500m is not to be sniffed at," he said. "If a big chunk of that can go into jump racing prize-money then everyone's a winner.
"Jump racing at Sandown is absolutely brilliant and it deserves a proper makeover with the sort of investment that we've seen at Cheltenham. This could be the making of jump racing for the next generation. If prize-money gets a real boost across the Jockey Club courses, others will have to follow. Good luck to them."
A spokesman for The Jockey Club said: "It's Spelthorne Borough Council that has issued a call for sites to help to meet the housing shortage in the borough and at the same time launched a Green Belt Review. Until Redrow has submitted full proposals they can't be pre-judged.
"Putting the full estate at Kempton Park forward for consideration would help them to address unmet needs, includes a large amount of previously developed land and offers to maintain a green barrier between London and the borough, while any future planning application would outline significant local benefits that would be created in the process."