The future of Larkhill racecourse - Your help is needed
Many of you will have seen the article in this week’s Horse & Hound, see print version attached and on line at https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/news/larkhill-point-to-point-racecourse-future-uncertain-806571. I regret to say it is an accurate account of where things stand.
The future of Larkhill Racecourse has been uncertain for some time. Our existing 21-year MOD lease ends on 31st December 2023. The racecourse committee has been in discussions with the MOD Defence Training Estates organisation for the last three years to obtain a new lease. We were informed by them in June this year that our lease would not be renewed because the racecourse represented an obstacle to training, particularly armoured manoeuvre training, and that it needed to go. Accordingly the course will close at the end of 2023 and the forthcoming 2022/23 season marks our last after 75 years of racing.
We were given the opportunity over the summer months to identify alternative sites for the racecourse. Together with MOD staff we examined a total of twelve locations across Salisbury Plain Training Area. After careful examination none of the options were viable, either because the site was unsuitable for racing or because of its negative impact on military training. We reported this to Defence Training Estates earlier this month and asked them to reconsider their decision to remove us from Larkhill. They declined to do so.
The racecourse committee believes this decision is deeply flawed. The MOD has overturned the findings of a review it commissioned in 2019 to consider the future of Larkhill Racecourse. In essence the review recommended that Army training and the racecourse should continue to share the land concerned, as it has done for 75 years, with flexibility and cooperation on both sides. It emphasised the value of the racecourse to the people of Wiltshire and to point-to-point racing throughout the country. It further highlighted the importance of the racecourse to a range of equestrian activities, notably the nationally-recognised cross country course, to both military and civilian users.
The MOD has undertaken no public consultation about the closure of a much-loved and much-used amenity on its land. The villages around Salisbury Plain tolerate a good deal of noise and disruption from Army training and in return its residents have always welcomed the opportunity to go racing at Larkhill. Many will see this unilateral decision to close the racecourse as a breach of faith by the military. Furthermore the decision to close in less than 14 months’ time makes it extremely difficult for our Hunts and other racecourse users to make plans for the 2023/24 season, adding to a sense of injustice.
We have worked hard over the last three years to convince the MOD that the racecourse and the Army can co-exist harmoniously. We have always accepted that military training has primacy and have in the past postponed race meetings at short notice to comply with training priorities. We have offered to reduce the size of the course by around 20%, thereby providing more land for manoeuvre training. We have acted entirely reasonably in our discussions with the MOD. I’m sorry to say our positive attitude has not been reciprocated.
But the battle to retain Larkhill Racecourse is only just beginning! This statement marks the start of a campaign to convince the MOD that it should reconsider its decision. I have written at some length so that you know the background. The MOD will say that the war in Ukraine and the withdrawal from training areas abroad make Salisbury Plain more important than ever for armoured training. We will acknowledge these points but make a compelling case for the racecourse to continue using the reasons I have outlined above.
Please write to your County Councillor, your local MP and other opinion formers in Wiltshire setting out your objections to the MOD’s decision. You will have your own points to make but we believe the key issues are:
the importance of the racecourse to the local civilian and military community
- the significance of point-to-pointing at Larkhill to racegoers and the racing industry nationally
- the lack of public consultation
- the impact on Hunts and other users of closing at such short notice
Rest assured that we will be campaigning vigorously at the national level, through the Point-to-Point Authority and other organisations together with the media. But lobbying at local level is vital to our success and I do hope you will take up the fight. We simply cannot allow Larkhill Racecourse to be closed.
Larkhill Racecourse Committee