Make-or-break for horseracing plan

THE next nine months will be a make-or-break period for a £14 million project to create a world class tourist attraction in Suffolk, based around the oldest surviving horseracing stables.

THE next nine months will be a make-or-break period for a £14 million project to create a world class tourist attraction in Suffolk, based around the oldest surviving horseracing stables.

Newmarket's Home of Horseracing project, led by Forest Heath District Council, is entering a crucial stage in its development and will face a “fundamental review” if key objectives have not been met before next September.

The scheme aims to transform the derelict Palace House Stables in the centre of the town, created in the 17th century by Charles II, into a living, working museum with a trainer and a string of horses in situ, capitalising on the town's rich sporting heritage.

A business plan for the much-anticipated scheme is due to go before councillors next Wednesday, and the accompanying council report warns “progress has been frustrated by the sheer scale, complexity of the project, including so many disparate partners and the lengthy period of the outcomes.”

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The scheme, due to be completed in 10 to 15 years, hopes to embrace other attractions in the town including the National Horseracing Museum and the National Stud, and enhance the town's reputation as racing's headquarters. The business plan includes a series of targets and these include the establishment of a financially-viable management trust and the installation of racehorses in Palace House stables by September next year.

However, the council report also states: “A critical point will be reached in the Autumn of 2005. If funding or commitment of all partners has not been secured by then, the project will need full review.”

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The council's leisure services director, Tony Bass, said he was optimistic for the scheme's future and the objectives in the report reflected realistic aims to move the project forward quickly.

He said: “The project has been running for a number of years and we recognise the importance of the site, but we need to make it a real project.

“It's a long-awaited redevelopment but these are a realistic set of goals which we need to reach to show the scheme is viable to go ahead.

“We are very confident that this a good, hard timetable which will move the project forward.”

A number of objectives are already in the process of completion, with a trust being set up and fundraisers appointed, and discussions are underway with the British Horseracing Board about the possibility of long-term funding.

The council has also acquired the former Waitrose store which neighbours the Palace House paddocks, which it is thought will form an entrance to the development.

Next year will also see a crucial period for another huge leisure scheme to build at an as yet unnamed site outside Newmarket - a rowing centre of excellence, which has already won the backing of five-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave.

The scheme, of which few details are yet known, is expected to incorporate an artificial lake, housing, a tennis academy and other leisure facilities, spread over a 200-acre site.

The Watermark Project, as it has been dubbed by developers Orion Land and Leisure, is due to be the subject of massive public consultation next year, prior to the submission of a planning application.

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