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."

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
News
i100
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
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

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: If you are a committed Te...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style