Housing approved on historic Henlow Greyhound Stadium site as promoter warns of 'tragic' job losses

Greyhound racing at an historic Bedfordshire track looks set to end next year, when its lease runs out, after up to 75 homes were approved for the site.

Thursday, 17th September 2020, 10:38 am
Updated Thursday, 17th September 2020, 10:56 am

Applicant Messrs A & K McDonnell of Letchworth applied for outline permission to redevelop Henlow Greyhound Stadium in Bedford Road at Lower Stondon.

The site includes a 250m race track, bars, restaurants and kennels, Central Bedfordshire Council’s development management committee heard on Wednesday (Sept 16).

“The fact the application is before us means the applicant has no wish to renew the lease,” said planning officer Tom Mead.

Henlow Greyhound Track. Photo: Google

Managing director of Henlow Racing Limited, Kevin Boothby, who has held the lease since 2004, told the committee: “We’ve a vibrant and growing business here at Henlow. Built in 1927, it’s the longest established track and the busiest racing stadium in the UK. If the land is developed for housing an important leisure facility, which has been in constant use for 93 years, will be lost forever. The costs of building a new greyhound stadium are prohibitive. We’re a historical part of the sporting landscape.

“Greyhound racing has changed enormously at Henlow in the last five years. We stage seven or eight meetings a week and it’s broadcast all over the world. The races are sent by fibre optic to a studio and broadcast centre in Milton Keynes and from there to Russia, Romania, Spain, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand.

He added: “Our races feature in the gambling industry throughout the world.

“There are 400 people’s livelihoods at stake with this planning application, and we employ them directly and indirectly.

“It’s important to retain racing at Henlow because the job loss would be absolutely tragic.”

Stondon Parish Council objected, although clerk James Stirling described it as being a brownfield site represented in the draft Local Plan housing allocations.

He said: “We feel this proposal is cutting all the corners possible and should be refused until the community gains can be improved.”

He asked for the parish council to manage the open space, rather than a management company, and for the play area to be relocated away from a busy road.

Agent John Shepherd said, as with sites approved by CBC to the north and west, the benefits of the development would significantly outweigh the harm.

He referred to the council’s five-year land supply for new homes as “a minimum, not a ceiling”.

The scheme would provide 35 per cent affordable housing and contributions for education, leisure and library services, according to Mr Shepherd.

“Noise complaints have been received relating to the kennels and floodlights have significant impact during evening events,” he said.

The applicant estimates the site directly employs about 15 permanent full-time staff, together with some part-time jobs.

“This is the opportunity to progress the council’s vision for the area,” he added.

Conservative Arlesey councillor Ian Dalgarno warned of “significant job losses within my local community”. He said: “Many of you will have seen dozens of emails from different trainers and operators. There’s been a huge amount of development in Stondon.”

The parish council wants its views heard about access and footpath links between the three (housing) sites, if the development goes ahead, he added.

There were four votes in favour of refusing the application, seven against and one abstention.

Dunstable Watling councillor Nigel Young said: “I sympathise fully with the emails we received and I regret this may mean a number of dogs will have to be rehomed.

“But it’s the owner of the land closing the greyhound stadium.”

Councillors approved the development with eight votes in favour, two against and two abstentions.

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