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Fans Celebrate As Speedway Is Saved - 24/11/06

Councillors Unanimously Support Controversial Scheme
by Dee Adcock - Dorset Echo

WEYMOUTH speedway boss Phil Bartlett was celebrating today after councillors backed his controversial bid to keep speedway in Weymouth.
His supporters cheered as West Dorset District Council planners voted unanimously to grant consent for change of use at the Chickerell track. Their approval means speedway - which has operated on a temporary basis for three seasons - can stay in Weymouth.

After the meeting Mr Bartlett spoke of his relief that the uncertainty was over. He said: “Now it’s permanent. We can all celebrate. We’ll comply with all the conditions, no problem. We’ve got work to do but the money is there and there’s enough time to get it done before the new season. I expect the first race meeting to be in April.”

He added: “Beforehand I wasn’t confident we’d get it, but I wasn’t nervous either. I’d told my wife it was a case of what would be would be. I’m very pleased - and I don’t have to think about appealing against a refusal. It’s good.”

He thanked the committee members who backed the plan and the supporters who wrote letters and emails and attended the meeting, including several Wildcats riders. He said: “First of all I want to say thank you to all the fans - local, national and international - who supported this planning application.” He praised his agent John Roberts who urged councillors to overturn a recommendation for refusal by planning officer Andrew Martin. Mr Roberts said after the meeting: “They made the right decision. Take the emotion out of it and look at it as a plan and that was the right way to go.” They were congratulated by supporters who shook Mr Bartlett’s hand and clapped him on the back.

The turnout meant there was standing room only in the committee room as supporters and objectors crowded into the council’s development control east committee meeting for the debate. The application had sparked a huge response from supporters locally and across the world — but it also drew more than 200 letters of objection. It went to a nail-biting finale as Mr Martin recommended refusal while acknowledging it was a finely-balanced issue. He told committee members the application - which followed the granting of permission twice on a temporary basis - hinged on the issue of noise nuisance for people living nearby.

He said planning guidelines allowed for occasional louder noise than would be acceptable in industrial situations. Mr Martin said measures, including a screen on top of a bund, had been taken to reduce noise but acoustic tests showed the noise level was too high during races. He said Mr Bartlett had voluntarily banned air horns and cut the length of meetings to reduce the impact. He added: “My feeling is that two-and-a-half hours of speedway every Friday night during the summer season is a nuisance for people who live nearby and is not tolerable.”

Several people objected to the plan, including Geoff Jones, who claimed noise during race nights this year was as loud as in 2004 even with noise reduction measures in place. He said: “After three years the problems are still the same - how much more evidence is required to prove the noise nuisance?”

Among the supporters of speedway at the Radipole Lane ground was South Dorset MP Jim Knight, who stressed the importance of supporting local sporting organizations. In a letter to the committee he stated that concerns about noise needed to be taken into account but so did the need for speedway to continue. He wrote: “It is clear to me that Weymouth Wildcats has boosted local community spirit and pride.” Councillor Tim Harries said other speedway tracks had got planning permission recently even in urban areas. His call to grant consent was supported by all members. Members agreed to a raft of conditions including noise reduction measures and limits on the number and length of meetings.

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