sport

Farewell to Folkestone

A second racecourse was left teetering on the edge of extinction as Folkestone hosted its last fixture for the foreseeable future on Tuesday.

Just two days earlier, Hereford shut for business with owner Arena Racing Company (ARC) believing the 17 years remaining on the lease from the local council did not justify the venue being kept open.

Folkestone, another ARC course, is not said to be financially viable either but some faint hope remains that closing could only be a temporary measure.

The county of Kent now no longer has a racecourse, following the closure of Wye in 1974, with Folkestone having staged meetings since 1898.

ARC claimed operations could continue if more than 800 homes were built on the site, with the funds being directed to update facilities and move the actual position of the course itself.

A proposal was submitted to Shepway District Council for the building, but it was left out of their core strategy (essentially a blueprint for future development in the area) that will be passed on to the Secretary of State's inspectorate.

The council still say they are open to future discussions in order for the racecourse to remain open.

ARC's chairman Michael Howard, or the Rt. Hon. Lord Howard of Lympne, was a long-serving local MP for the constituency of Folkestone and Hythe.

He believes the lifeline would be if the council would instead include in their core strategy some general wording about future developments which, if approved, would enable more detailed plans to be proposed that could meet the council's criteria.

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 could not envisage racing possibly 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 outlined what would happen in the immediate future.

He said: "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, Folkestone would not stay the same in the future and 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 been two racecourses were not making money.

"We have no plans to do anything with any of the others."