— Later update: Reaction from Lincoln MP Karl McCartney*
Plans to reinstate horse racing in Lincoln have been put on hold. The Lincoln Racecourse Regeneration Company (LRRC) withdrew its proposal three days before the City of Lincoln Council Executive Committee was meant to examine the plans.
In an unexpected move, LRRC announced that it will put on hold its plans for a racecourse on the West Common around five hours after Emile Van Der Zee, the head of the Hands Off Our Common campaign, submitted a petition with over 2,000 signatures against the proposal.
“We received notification from LRRC late [Thursday] that they wish to withdrawal the proposal which was to be discussed as part of Monday’s Executive meeting,” said Chris Dunbar, Communications Manager from City of Lincoln Council. “The meeting is still scheduled to take place as planned.”
Controversial council officer report
LRRC’s decision to hold their plans is reportedly due to an inaccurate City of Lincoln Council officer’s report to the council’s executives in the dawn of Monday’s meeting. “The report to be presented to the Executive is a fair appraisal of the proposal, taking into account both the information presented by LRRC and the comments of the Commons Advisory Panel,” Dunbar said.
“We are disappointed to note that the report does not reflect adequately the many and varied discussions that have taken place between ourselves and the council over the past couple of years, nor does it acknowledge the format or information requested be contained in our proposal as requested by them,” Karen Rastall, a director with LRRC, said in a statement.
Rastall also alleged preconceptions regarding LRRC’s proposal from the City of Lincoln Council. “It has only been the onslaught of media attention that has encouraged them to escalate this matter onto their agenda, we think that this is further evidence of the officers’ desire to kick a project as important as this into the long grass to avoid making a decision on its future,” she said.
“The Council have always been aware of the commercial sensitivity of this project and the nature of the speculative spends. The creation of a limited company came about as a direct consequence of previous discussions with themselves and their indication to us that they needed a corporate body to deal with in the first instance if considering any lease or first rights.
“To not have that matter as an option for consideration at the Executive meeting is totally unacceptable to the investors in this project.” The City of Lincoln Council declined any further comment prior to Monday’s meeting.
LRRC, run by Rastal and Lincoln MP Karl McCartney, is not ready to back on its plans. “The LRRC will continue to lobby for regeneration of the Grandstand and associated areas and to bring back professional flat racing to Lincoln, this may be in consultation with other bodies or partners, only time will tell.”
*Disappointed Lincoln MP, but with clear conscience
“Obviously I am disappointed by this outcome,” Karl McCartney said in a statement. “Both I and the other board members of Lincoln Racecourse Regeneration Company Limited have never sought to gain financially from this proposal.
“The City Council and their officers have continually moved the goalposts, and the options they put forward do not reflect the discussions we have had regarding a Heads of Terms Lease,” the MP said.
“However, like other board members I was surprised at the content and options put forward and made public by the City Council for consideration as they were not what we had been led to believe was the correct way forward for the process and so were perturbed, to say the least, considering our conversations and the direction given to us previously,” McCartney added.
“For me racing was about wanting to bring prosperity to our city and I now wait to see what plans the City Council and its senior officers have in store for regenerating and bringing new jobs to the city plus what plans it has to upgrade the grandstand and the amenities and facilities on the West Common. My conscience is clear, I have always been open and stated that my aims were the promotion, growth and economic well-being of the area I represent.”
Anti-racecourse campaigners will not rest
Emile Van Der Zee, the coordinator of the Hands Off Our Common Campaign, said he is happy about the latest developments, but there are still challenges ahead. “The LRRC has said that they may be back. It is now our challenge to use the momentum and develop some good alternative plans for the Grandstand and the area around it.”
“This is not the end of our activities! Although we have won, we will need to work hard in a constructive manner with all existing interest groups and political parties to do something good for the Grandstand and for the West Common. The really interesting work begins now,” Van Der Zee added.