Tory minister lines up with racing royalty against new homes

How much influence should billionaire stud owners have on town planning?

Political Correspondent

Tens of thousands of pounds from wealthy individuals and companies connected to Newmarket's horse racing industry have been paid into the local Conservative Party branch of Business minister Matt Hancock, who opposed a controversial housing development the racing community believes will jeopardise the town's international reputation.

The Tory minister, who used to work for the Chancellor, George Osborne, lobbied and wrote personal letters to Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, asking him to reject a 400-home development planned for the north east of the Suffolk town. Owners of some of Newmarket's renowned stud farms and training yards, who are among Britain's wealthiest people, have fought the proposed project at Hatchfield Farm, claiming it will damage Europe's largest horse training centre.

International owners such as Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, owner of the Godolphin management team, threatened to pull out of Newmarket if the development on land owned by Lord Derby went ahead. Flat racing's aristocracy, including the Queen's trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, have almost universally voiced concern about further housing in the town.

After years of legal wrangles, appeals and revisions which scaled the Hatchfield project down from its original 1,200 homes, the Tory-controlled Forest Heath District Council passed the project last month by a 10 to five majority.

Just over a week later Mr Pickles announced that he was "calling in" the development to review their decision.

Mr Hancock, who has been against the development on Lord Derby's land since he was first elected to parliament in 2010, described the decision taken by his government colleague as "positive news for Newmarket and the racing industry as a whole".

However the decision flies in the face of current government policy, with the new Housing and Planning minister, Brandon Lewis, saying the government had "got Britain building again" and that his department would "pull out all the stops to help Britain's housing industry".

Simon Cole, an independent on the district council, said: "The contacts between Matt Hancock and Eric Pickles and letter the MP sent to the Secretary of State were mentioned ahead of the vote. So before we even sat down to make the decision, we knew someone else would be making it for us."

Mr Cole said: "Newmarket is a town of have and have-nots. And it is being strangled by the very industry that feeds it. People who have money like to secure their interests through politics and they donate accordingly. A democratic decision was taken by an elected council, and a lot of Tory voters are shocked that Matt Hancock has nailed his colours to the mast of the horse racing industry."

Mr Pickles' department confirmed receipt of a letter about Hatchfield from Mr Hancock, but said any decision to reveal its content rested with Mr Hancock.

Organisations opposed to the housing project include the British Horseracing Authority, Newmarket's Horseman Group, the Racehorse Owners Association and the Jockey Club.

Tattersalls, the oldest bloodstock auctioneer in the world and the largest thoroughbred sales house in Europe, also opposes Hatchfield, claiming it would create higher traffic volumes and was "too great a change" for a town heavily reliant on horse racing and breeding.

Since 2010, Tattersalls, which has its headquarters in Newmarket, has donated more than £50,000 to the West Suffolk Conservative constituency party. The donations include £10,000 in February 2011, £5,000 in March 2011 and £6,000 in May 2011.

Tattersalls' marketing director, Jimmy George, said: "Yes, we've made donations over many years in support of our local MP, Matt Hancock, and before him Richard Spring. They've worked hard on behalf of the constituency and for the horse racing industry which is hugely important to us and to the community of Newmarket. And the donations reflect that."

Asked about the council vote and Mr Hancock's personal appeals to Eric Pickles, and whether or not Tattersalls had helped influence the decision to call in the development, Mr George said: "Look, you need to speak to Matthew Hancock on stuff like that. That is not for me to speculate. Those are matters I do not want to get involved in."

Other wealthy stud farm owners in Newmarket have contributed to the West Suffolk Tory party over the past three years. They include the billionaire Kirsten Rausing, owner of the Lanwades stud farm in Newmarket. She is listed in the Commons Register of Members' Interests as donating £5,000 to Mr Hancock's constituency party in March 2011.

The Cheveley Park stud, owned by David Thompson, the co-founder of Hillsdown Holdings, one of the UK's largest food businesses, also donated £10,000 to the local Tory party in May 2011.

Other stud-farm owners who have given similar donations include Bill Gredley, who gave £10,000, also in 2011.

William Gittus, managing director of the Jockey Club, said Mr Hancock had been "representing" the industry and the town. "The industry [horse racing and breeding] employs 8,500 living within a 25-mile radius. The annual growth value added is £208m. Planning laws protect the horse racing industry's assets. This is one of the reasons why Newmarket is still the powerhouse it is today."

Officials at the Business Department were asked if Mr Hancock wanted to comment on his contacts with Mr Pickles and the donations to his constituency party. Although initially stating that this was a constituency party matter, a spokesperson later said: "Matthew has been a strong supporter of racing since before he was MP. In representing Newmarket – racing's global headquarters – of course he sticks up for the racing industry, and the 9,000 jobs it creates nearby."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick