Reassurance over glare from flood lights as first race takes place at Chelmsford City Racecourse in Great Leighs

New grandstand taken from the race track

New grandstand taken from the race track - Credit: Archant

Racing returns to Great Leighs this Sunday as the newly-renamed Chelmsford City Racecourse opens its doors to a select 750 invited guests.

The first public meeting at Great Leighs Racecourse in May 2008. Racing retuns this weekend

The first public meeting at Great Leighs Racecourse in May 2008. Racing retuns this weekend

And neighbours are being reassured that measures have been taken to reduce the light pollution from the controversial floodlights around the track.

The new permanent grandstand, which replaces the temporary stand used when the course originally opened back in 2008 under the guise of Great Leighs Racecourse, will be put through its paces as punters watch the races.

“We are expecting between seven and eight races to be run,” said racecourse MD Phil Siers. “We are trying out the facilities, looking at how the lighting is, how the wifi works and making sure the cookers work. There will be bookies taking bets, and totes taking bets.

“It will be, to all intents and purposes, a standard meeting, there will just be a smaller crowd than normal because there will be no tickets sold online or at the gates.”

The contentious floodlights at Great Leighs, now know as Chelmsford City Racecourse

The contentious floodlights at Great Leighs, now know as Chelmsford City Racecourse


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There are 58 race meetings scheduled to take place at Chelmsford this year, the next being January 22.

“We would not expect that testing to roll over to the second meeting, but certainly by the third race on January 28 we would expect to be fully open to the public,” said Mr Siers, who explained that the site has capacity for a maximum of 10,000 people.

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The contentious racecourse sits on land that was formally part of the Essex County Showground, which was sold to John Holmes in 1996.

There were 40 races at the all-weather track, which was the first new racecourse to open in Britain in 80 years, before the administrators were called in in January 2009.

Racing ceased and despite several rescue packages and buyout options being proposed, the course was mothballed until new owners Betfred took over.

Mr Siers said: “Betfred took possession of the project on December 18 last year and it was just a shell without a grandstand or any facilities, it was nothing more than the track itself.

“In 13 months we have built a new grandstand with full catering which will be available on non-race days for conventions, launches and weddings - this will be a real leisure venue.”

During the original spell of racing there were complaints from neighbours in Great Leighs about the floodlights, with some claiming it was like daylight in their gardens when the lights were on.

Councillor James Abbott, a Green Party member of Braintree District Council, said: “I live six miles away and when they were testing the lights before Christmas I could see the lights from my house.

“Back in 2008 there were some nights when they could be seen as far away as Witham and even Marks Tey.

“The problem is they are beaming two megawatts down onto a light-coloured track, and the light bounces off. It creates a muchroom cloud effect that reflects off the clouds.”

But Mr Siers said: “The racecourse has full planning permission to use the lights for meetings.

“It is a sophisticated system we have in place that will dim the lights to about 50% power between races so we would expect minimal disruption to anyone in the surrounding vicinity.

“We have also had additional work done in Moulsham Hall Lane to offer camouflage netting to further reduce the effect of the lights in this area.

“The light readings are all with the appropriate parameters so we wouldn’t expect any issues.” Do you live near the course? Are you concerned about the light pollution?

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