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Newmarket’s horseracing industry ‘could leave’ if 400 homes on Hatchfield Farm approved

PUBLISHED: 13:45 15 April 2015 | UPDATED: 16:26 15 April 2015

First day of the Newmarket races Craven meeting. Passing the post first is Magnus Maximus, ridden by Pat Dobbs.

First day of the Newmarket races Craven meeting. Passing the post first is Magnus Maximus, ridden by Pat Dobbs.

Archant

The planning inquiry started yesterday, with landowner Lord Derby’s representatives calling the racing industry’s claims “absurd”.

The hearing, led by planning inspector Christina Downes, is set to take up to three weeks. The plans for the 400 homes were approved by Forest Heath District Council, but Eric Pickles, the cabinet member for Local Government, called in the decision in 2014.

The Newmarket Horsemen’s Group’s, representing the racing industry, opened their case in opposition to the application, with the council and the landowner both outlining their support.

In 2011, a previous application for 1,200 homes at Hatchfield Farm was rejected at appeal, with Christopher Boyle QC, on behalf of Lord Derby, yesterday accusing the horseracing industry of “going over old ground”.

He said: “The local planning authority, Forest Heath District Council, are fully supportive of the application.”

In 2011 the planning appeal was rejected on the grounds that it was “premature” to the council’s review into housing distribution across Forest Heath.

Mr Boyle continued: “(In 2011) the secretary of state found that a scheme for 1,200 houses would not have an unacceptable impact on either highways conditions or the safety of horses using the highways network, nor would it harm the horseracing industry generally.

“The core objection from the racing industry, impact and particularly traffic impact, on the horse racing industry, was concluded to be unfounded.”

He told the inquiry that 400 houses, 30% of which will be affordable homes, will make a meaningful contribution to housing supply, helping the council meet the government’s quota for the district.

He stressed that the plans would actually improve road safety for horses at the Rayes Lane crossing, which the Horesmen’s Group voiced concerns about.

The racing industry have raised a number of issues asides from harm to their own industry, including badgers and impact on a nearby fen nature reserve.

Mr Boyle added: “The Horsemen’s Group take a curious point of view that they will be harmed by the mere fact of approval - that a positive decision would indicate (they) were not valued.

“(They claim) the industry will take the huff and move away from Newmarket, abandoning its pre-eminent advantages, and the equally absurd suggestion that a scheme which actually adds to the recharge of the chalk aquifer would risk the hydrology of a perched fen system.”

He accused the industry’s lawyers of wasting three weeks of inquiry time on “tissue thin objections” to “what amounts to sustainable development”.

Countering the claims from Lord Derby’s representatives, David Elvin QC, on behalf of the Horseman’s Group, said the plans would risk the future of the industry.

He said the death of just one horse worth “millions of pounds” on Newmarket’s roads would be enough to substantially risk “investor confidence” from the likes of Sheikh Mohammed.

He told the inquiry: “Any development which may potentially affect either the existing success of the industry in Newmarket or its potential for further growth should be assessed on a precautionary basis, given what is at stake.

“The application would perpetuate and exacerbate what is already an unacceptable and severe situation.”

He said perception from racehorse owners that Newmarket was a dangerous place to keep horses could be enough to drive investors abroad, where “the relationship between horses and traffic is far more satisfactory”.

He added: “Granting permission for this unplanned and large-scale development would send entirely the wrong message to the market.”

The inquiry will continue for three weeks, with witnesses for the district council, the Horsemen’s Group and Lord Derby all giving evidence.

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