Planning permission which will see the closure of Britain’s first greyhound track at Belle Vue in Manchester, was confirmed by a unanimous vote by city councillors this afternoon writes Greyhound Star editor Floyd Amphlett.
One of the ‘leaders of the resistance’ local bookmaker Simon Walmsley does not see the fight as over and questions the deal between landowners Crown Estates and developers Countryside Properties (UK) & SCP Investments Ltd. His real ire though is centred on Manchester City Council.
He said: “It is a strongly left wing Labour council and they have favoured the developers throughout. They would have the place concreted over tomorrow.
“For example, they have passed the plan short of the requisite percentage of social housing. Under national guidelines it is supposed to be 20%, which would be 49 houses. Countryside originally offered 11, that went up to 30 and finally 35 with an ‘IOU promise’ that if they make more money than they are expecting, it will rise to 35.
“The council weren’t interested that there is a covenant on the land stating it should only be used for sport and leisure. They took the view, ‘we are not interested’. We didn’t get fair representation on the day, I was cut short in my argument, but the developers got to say exactly as they pleased.”
“In terms of the relationship between landlords Crown Oil and the developers, we know that Countryside have held a charge of the deeds meaning it could only be sold to them since December 2016. But surely their first responsibility is to the pension funds to get the best price?
“Had the council so wished, they could have insisted on a plan in which some housing was allowed providing that the sporting activity remained. But council rolled over and Crown Oil didn’t need to seek other buyers.”
So what are the options now?
Walmsley said: “There is no appeals procedure short of a judicial review. They are expensive and only examine whether the correct steps were taken. Given there were lawyers in the room, that seems a hard battle to win.
“We still believe that there is an ACV (Asset of Community Value) order in place which would entitle someone to bid against the developers to retain it as a dog track, though I would imagine that there is a very short queue.”
Local trainer Pat Rosney believes that the spirit among his fellow handlers will not be affected by today’s judgement, and they haven’t given up on the track remaining open.
He said: “I don’t think you will find one trainer who wasn’t expecting today’s verdict and everyone appreciates the efforts made by Simon Walmsley and the Friends of Belle Vue. They could not have tried any harder.
“But the ball is now in ARC’s court. They took over the track from Clive Feltham and they have the resources to more than match the house builders. What we don’t know is whether that is in their plans. But the place is still making money, despite paying a reputed £23K per month in rent. It is still a thriving business; you couldn’t move there last Saturday despite the efforts of the antis outside. It was heaving.
“Assuming the place has a market value that won’t decline, what is to stop ARC buying the place and building some houses on it, a bit like Shelbourne Park, but still retain the business? I guess we will know a lot more in the coming weeks but I don’t sense that any of the trainers are looking to leave. We are waiting to see what happens next.”
Mark Bird, Managing Director of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, said: “This is obviously a sad decision given both the historic legacy of Belle Vue as a stadium and also its continued popularity as a track. As we have seen elsewhere in recent years, the land on which some greyhound stadia are housed offers developers prime residential and commercial opportunities which come with huge financial gain. Despite this, the sport is welcoming the potential of two new tracks in the near future as the sport continues to thrive in terms of public interest and popularity.
“We will be working alongside the staff, trainers and kennel staff at the stadium to ensure that, as and when it closes, the welfare of those dogs who currently race there is given the highest priority.”