We warned about this two-and-a-half years ago (click here): The Jockey Club stood to make so much from their plan to dig up the parkland on half of their Kempton Park estate that they could afford to repay the £25m owed to the bondholders who financed the new Grandstand at Cheltenham, and have cash left over to make a big repayment of the additional £43m they owed the banks and other creditors.
Things have changed since then, of course. The Jockey Club’s total debt has grown from £97m to £155m (page 12 here), and, of course, they now want to bulldoze their entire Kempton Park estate to raise in excess of £100m.
One thing hasn’t changed. When we brought up this topic with Jockey Club management and PR consultants in 2014, it was remarkable how defensive they were. A couple of weeks ago, the defensiveness had given way to vehement denials, as if it were almost treasonous to question the health of The Jockey Club’s finances. Never mind the fact the £500m in investment they are promising over the decade following their hoped-for sale of the Kempton Park estate is no more than they spent over the decade to 2015. (The Jockey Club’s published Accounts only go up to 2015.)
But whatever the arguments they put up in denial, the fact remains: an important area of London’s Green Belt will be lost to put The Jockey Club’s finances in better order, to the added detriment of the quality of life of current residents of the area, as well as anyone who buys one of the 3000+ units The Jockey Club and Redrow will build, if they are given half a chance.
And there’s one other thing: this whole plan smells as if it were put together over a weekend. The vast majority of horse racing’s most influential people were not consulted. The Leader of Forest Heath District Council (home of Newmarket, and where the promised new all-weather track will be built to replace the one at Kempton Park which The Jockey Club wants to tear up) was not consulted. Neither, it seems, was anyone at Elmbridge Borough Council (home of Sandown Park, which The Jockey Club promises to upgrade and increase in capacity, with all sorts of implications for traffic flow in the Esher area).
In their initial plans to build on Kempton Park from 2012 onwards, The Jockey Club were at pains to spend years cultivating councillors and officials at Spelthorne Borough Council. Their plans came to nothing, and, instead of managing the development process themselves, they brought in Redrow to do it for them.
There are an increasing number of voices within The Jockey Club, and racing more generally, who think Redrow were the drivers behind this entire project. Redrow bounced Simon Bazalgette and his Stewards – over a matter of weeks – into agreeing this new plan to pour concrete over the entire Kempton Park estate. Long term plan it is not.
It’ll all come out in the wash at some stage …