NEW Kerry Dun­lop on the Kent track’s prob­lems

Motor Sport News - - The Future Of Lydden -

The fu­ture of Ly­d­den Hill Cir­cuit hangs in the bal­ance pend­ing the re­sult of a plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion for a multi-mil­lion pound de­vel­op­ment.

Pat Do­ran, who heads Man­sion Park, the com­pany that has owned the cir­cuit for the last six years, wants to build a three-storey hos­pi­tal­ity cen­tre, grand­stands, a new ad­min block and 14 en­gi­neer­ing suites to be ac­cessed via a new en­trance with eas­ier ac­cess from the A2 trunk road.

The plans show great am­bi­tion, but the move is also be­ing made out of a de­gree of des­per­a­tion to keep the venue afloat. In re­cent years rac­ing ac­tiv­ity at Ly­d­den has dwin­dled due to a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors. The venue is now con­sid­ered too pricey for cir­cuit rac­ing clubs to hire and run meet­ings, plus new noise re­stric­tions have added an ad­di­tional, un­wanted, bar­rier to run­ning events.

Di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of ac­tiv­i­ties is now the only way Do­ran sees a fu­ture for the cir­cuit, and the fa­cil­i­ties are needed in or­der for the venue to run new ven­tures. Non-mo­tor­sport re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties, such as us­ing the venue to train po­lice driv­ers (in road cars), cy­cle rac­ing, camp­ing, craft fairs and even hot air bal­loon­ing have all been sug­gested.

Do­ran ex­plains: “I’m very con­fi­dent [the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion will be ap­proved]. This has been some­thing we’ve been work­ing on for two-and-ahalf to three years to get to where we are now. We’ve been work­ing with the lo­cal au­thor­ity and com­mu­nity to try and get the best for ev­ery­one.

“But if we didn’t get it the cir­cuit couldn’t con­tinue how it is. It will be back to be­ing a track in a field that just held two or three events a year and would be moth­balled. We want it to be a hub for the rac­ing com­mu­nity.”

Ral­ly­cross is suc­cess­ful at Ly­d­den, which holds Bri­tain’s round of the World Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship. But pure cir­cuit rac­ing meet­ings for cars and mo­tor­cy­cles have dwin­dled from around a dozen per year in the 1980s and early 1990s to just three in 2014. In 2015 only one mo­tor race meet­ing was held: there are none planned for this year ( see Rac­ing News). So now there is very lit­tle in­come from cir­cuit hire.

Many or­gan­is­ing clubs now ar­gue that they can­not af­ford to rent the cir­cuit due to an in­crease in track rental costs, brought about in an ef­fort to re­coup some of the mas­sive in­vest­ment put in to orig­i­nally se­cure the FIA World Ral­ly­cross round in the first place.

Since Do­ran took over he has pumped more than £1mil­lion into cir­cuit im­prove­ments, in­clud­ing a new ad­min block, an im­pres­sive glass-fronted start­line build­ing for race con­trol and me­dia, a proper as­phalt sur­face for the pad­dock, in­creased run-off ar­eas and a host of cos­metic changes. And the stag­ing of an FIA world cham­pi­onship round does not come cheaply…

The re­sult has led to the rise in costs across the board. The two clubs that used the venue most – the South East Mo­tor Sports En­thu­si­asts’ Club (SEMSEC) and the BARC South East cen­tre – are now un­able to host events there. SEMSEC ceased rac­ing in 2014 and, while BARC SE did run one meet­ing at Ly­d­den last year, a se­cond was can­celled on cost grounds.

“The prob­lem with Ly­d­den is a lot of lit­tle things add up,” says BARC SE com­pe­ti­tions sec­re­tary Rod Bir­ley. “The track hire fees have in­creased, but it’s all of the other costs that hurt more.

“For ex­am­ple, you have to use Ly­d­den’s own am­bu­lance ser­vice, and that’s gone up £1000, and it costs more to get of­fi­cials, time­keep­ers, scru­ti­neers there. When you add it all up, it’s cheaper to race at Brands Hatch. And driv­ers won’t pay Brands Hatch en­try fees to race at Ly­d­den.”

A re­cent noise re­stric­tion has also hurt club rac­ing at the track. To bring in ex­tra in­come, drift­ing events were held at the venue, but the ad­di­tional noise caused com­plaints.

Ly­d­den is now re­stricted to 100 deci­bels of noise in­stead of 105db, and can only run six hours of track ac­tiv­ity on a Sun­day.

Bir­ley adds that is per­haps the big­gest re­stric­tion: “Many classes won’t get un­der 100db with­out mod­i­fi­ca­tions. Driv­ers won’t pay out to fit si­lencers or baf­fling for just one round. It’s ac­tu­ally a re­duc­tion of about 30 per cent.

“We had sim­i­lar is­sues at Brands Hatch but the guys there worked so well with the coun­cil and a com­pro­mise was reached. The same needs to hap­pen at Ly­d­den.

“It’s such a shame as it’s a su­perb lit­tle track and we’d love to go back there. Ly­d­den has its place in UK mo­tor­sport and we want to see it sur­vive.”

With the loss of drift­ing and the lack of in­come from rac­ing clubs, Ly­d­den must look else­where for rev­enue. There is a three-day ex­emp­tion for the noise or­der, which should be suf­fi­cient to al­low the world ral­ly­cross round to take place as planned on May 27-29. But should a com­pro­mise on this not be found, it leaves a ques­tion mark over the fu­ture.

Do­ran adds: “The noise abate­ment is a big thing. We can’t hold drift­ing events any­more. That’s a quar­ter of our turnover taken off. The only way we can make money is to di­ver­sify.”

Now mo­tor­sport en­thu­si­asts, or­gan­is­ers and com­peti­tors will have to wait with fin­gers crossed un­til mid-fe­bru­ary, when Dover District Coun­cil should make its de­ci­sion. Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Rob Lad­brook and Stephen Lick­o­r­ish. ■

Ly­d­den’s de­vel­op­ment plans are bold World Ral­ly­cross is head­line event

Ral­ly­cross at­tracts huge crowds

Drift­ing events have been lost

New con­trol cen­tre at Ly­d­den

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