Great Leighs: Stargazers fear light pollution from racecourse

The first public meeting at Great Leighs Racecourse, Great Leighs in 2009.

The first public meeting at Great Leighs Racecourse, Great Leighs in 2009.

ASTRONOMERS fear floodlights at a sports stadium will ruin their view of the night sky.

Earlier this week, the planning committee at Chelmsford Borough Council gave conditional approval to the 74 floodlights at Great Leighs Racecourse.

The owners of the all-weather race track intend to use them to light evening race meetings at the 165-acre site – formerly the Essex County Showground – located between Braintree and Chelmsford.

But stargazers are concerned about the impact of light pollution from the £30million venue.

They remember when the track originally opened in April 2008, only to shut after nine months when the previous owners went into administration. Since then the course has remained closed.

James Abbot, Essex representative of the Campaign for Dark Skies, said: “The lights had a devastating effect on the night sky. It affected astronomers, people living in nearby rural areas and local wildlife.

“These lights are so bright because they want to film the races in high-definition. I live six miles away and I could see the glare through closed curtains. People could read newsprint at 10pm from two miles away.”

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But the council has given the floodlights the go-ahead, subject to a number of conditions.

These state that the lights must not be used after 10pm and that night race meets can only take place up to 130 times a year. The new owners, MC Racetracks, must also reduce light “spillage” on to nearby roads and test the lights to the satisfaction of the planning officer.

The approval follows hot on the heels of MC Racetracks receiving planning permission to build a 30,000sq ft hospitality complex with capacity for 3,500 people alongside the track.

Chairman of MC Racetracks, Keith Brown, said: “The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has made 98 floodlight fixtures available and we are likely to only get a small percentage of those, so the floodlights won’t be turned on that many times.

“A big part of our business model is providing filmed race events that can be shown on British racing TV channels and in betting shops.”

Mr Brown said he hoped the planning approvals would be a deciding factor in the BHA supporting the company’s application for a racing licence for 2014.

MC Racetracks previously had an application turned down for this year. A decision on the racing licence is expected some time in May.

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