The decision to end speedway at the East of England showground at Peterborough is final and the Panthers would have been forced to leave irrespective of plans for a £50m leisure resort development within the grounds.
Asset Earning Power Group (AEPG) is overseeing a third of the 165-acre site for an ambitious ‘leisure hub” and in a statement on Sunday said “significant costs have been borne by AEPG for the last 2 years and previously by East of England Agricultural Society (EEAS), the charity, and these far outweigh any viable rent increases.
“This is estimated to be twelve times the current rent per meet to cover the overhead costs involved.
“As such the decision not to renew the arrangement for running speedway meets would remain irrespective of any planning applications on the land”.
Two years ago, AEPG revealed they had secured agreement with EEAS, owner of the East of England Showground, to enhance the existing leisure offer and oversee residential and leisure development of the 165-acre site.
The AEPG statement issued today says: “We understand the disappointment at the imminent closure of the East of England Showground in its current form, which incorporates the grandstand used by the Peterborough Panthers.”
Land must be cleared
It goes onto say EEAS are in the process of selling the land and as such it needs to be clear of commercial operations or agreements.
“This includes the area of land the grandstand occupies and as the ownership of the land is predicted to change sometime in 2024, 2024 is not possible and beyond this becomes not commercially viable for the landowner and site operator.”
“The arrangement to run speedway at the showground has only ever been on a season-by-season basis and there has never been long term commitment on either side to continue.”
AEPG says they have been in touch over the past two years with Panthers club owner Keith ‘Buster’ Chapman, and agreed “at its considerable cost and resource, to extend the speedway tenure to include the 2023 season, as previously it had been agreed it would expire at the end of 2022.
“To quote the most recent statement from the Peterborough Panthers: ‘AEPG have been more than fair and reasonable in accommodating this’.
“Discussions over the development of the showground have been around for a number of years with the site originally put forward for development four years ago in line with the local plan site allocation.
“The discontinuation of speedway at the showground is not new news or a surprise to the Peterborough Panthers, and we are sorry to hear the club has not found a new home in this time.
“The question has been asked regarding running the speedway until the land sale, however the costs involved in running the site and maintaining the grandstand for the sole purpose of speedway is non-viable for AEPG and EEAS as it would result in continued losses.”
EEAS a charity and must bring in income
AEPG says that as a charitable organisation the EEAS’s activity must either bring income which contributes to fulfilling its charitable aims or fulfil them directly.
“This activity does not meet this requirement and these principles underpin both this decision and the decision to sell the land for development,” says AEPG.
“For clarity the land currently occupied on a temporary basis by DHL Supply Chain will be under separate ownership, will run to a different process and will have no impact on the sale of land for housing development.
“Other tenants on the showground are on short term contracts and not committed until past early 2024.
“AEPG are aware of other interested parties looking to negotiate the future of the speedway on the site and have clarified with the current owner that those conversations can take place.
“However, this does not change the current position that for the reasons already stated, a continuation of speedway at the showground for 2024 is not possible and beyond this becomes not commercially viable for the landowner and site operator.”
Ashley Butterfield, chief executive of AEPG, has said he remains confident the leisure development will create 400 jobs, although he added that a “significant” part of the showground land will “a large swathe of housing”.
Peterborough Panthers have been at the East of England Showground in the city since the club’s inception in 1970 and are yet to find a new race venue.
Mr Chapman told the BBC: “I find it a very bitter pill to swallow, that another track’s closing, especially Peterborough. It’s probably one of the finest tracks there is in the country, if not Europe.
“It’s a brilliant venue, a fantastic race strip and [it has] some of the country’s best supporters.
“I’m lost for words because it’s used a hell of a lot.”
FACTFILE PROVIDED BY AEPG
1: Who owns the land? The East of England Agricultural Society (EEAS), a registered charity and the current private landowner
2: Why can’t there be a 2024 speedway season? The land needs to be clear of commercial operations or agreements. This includes the area of land the grandstand occupies and as the ownership of the land is predicted to change sometime in 2024 there is no ability to commit to a 2024 speedway season.
3: How often does speedway run? Speedway is seasonal and only runs fortnightly for circa 6 months of the year i.e., only 14-17 days per year, with meets being heavily weather dependent.
4: Who is EEAS and what do they do? EEAS are a registered charity who must optimise its incomes to meet its charitable objectives, which are the education and promotion of farming as an industry within the local community.
5: What about the Local Plan? LP30 supports the development of new cultural, leisure, tourism, and community facilities. This looks to promote improving the range and quality of facilities.
It also highlights a need for a wide range of activities meeting the needs of different communities. The proposed new development promises to deliver a wider range of facilities suitable for a wider cross section of the community than is available at present on the site.
The loss via redevelopment of an existing leisure facility is permitted by the policy if the site is not viable to be developed for a new facility or the service is met by an existing provision in a reasonable proximity.
6: LP36 mirrors policy LP30 in respect of how the loss of existing leisure and sports facilities will be considered. Neither LP30 nor LP36 mentions speedway specifically.
7: What about viability? The costs involved in running the site and maintaining the grandstand for the sole purpose of speedway are non-viable for the landowner and the site operator.
There are a range of associated costs including insurances, maintenance and utilities which would be cost prohibitive.
8: What will happen to the track at the end of the 2023 season? AEPG and the current owners of the Panthers are in conversation about the removal of any elements owned by Peterborough Speedway and Keith Chapman.
There is a good relationship and a timeline which suits both parties will be agreed. At no time have AEPG given a deadline for this activity to take place.
9: Timeline 2019 – Based on the local plan allocation, EEAS decide to promote the land for sale and development, public consultations are carried out, and it is widely known and publicised that the intention for the site is to close in its current form
10: 2021 – AEPG are engaged by EEAS and meet with Panthers owners to discuss future of the site and impact for Speedway and on 2022 season
11: End of 2022 season – AEPG and Panthers agree to extend for the 2023 season
12: 2023 – Planning for the site submitted and land sale negotiations begin
13: 2024 – Anticipated planning determination and land sale
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