Donington Grand Prix plans receive boost

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The Independent Online

Donington Park's grand prix aspirations took another step towards being realised today as the circuit's chief executive Simon Gillett put pen to paper on a document which paves the way for major redevelopment to begin in earnest.

Construction work undertaken to get the Leicestershire circuit up to Formula One standards in time to host the 2010 British Grand Prix had been on hold while the local council reviewed their decision to grant planning permission for the proposed upgrade back in January.

Concerns were raised over the viability of the project in March when doubts emerged over Gillett's proposed debenture scheme to raise the £100m required to bring the circuit up to scratch, while a subsequent - and since resolved - legal wrangle with circuit owner Tom Wheatcroft cast a further shadow.

North West Leicestershire District Council had the power to deny planning permission if certain requirements were not met by June 30, but today's signing of a Section 106 agreement, a legally binding document in which certain undertakings are agreed to, appears to have brought an end to the matter.

A statement issued by Donington confirming the news revealed construction work would re-commence immediately, with a new pit and paddock complex first to be tackled.

"It's great to have cleared another hurdle and to see the hard work of the entire team at the circuit paying off," said Gillett.

"There's no denying that we still have a lot of hard work ahead but we'll continue to remain positive and do everything that we can to deliver against the promises that we have been made.

"The construction work is obviously extremely important, but we're also trying hard to ensure that it doesn't compromise the experience that our visitors to forthcoming events have."

Today's news adds further credibility to Donington's vow to stage grands prix from next year, which will mark the start of what is a 17-year agreement between Gillett and F1 rights holder Bernie Ecclestone.

The rubber-stamping of the Section 106 agreement will come as a welcome lift for Gillett, who was last week forced to defend his plans after British Racing Drivers' Club chairman Robert Brooks claimed the financial plan for the redevelopment did not "stack up".

Further questions were asked when Ecclestone revealed over the British Grand Prix weekend that Silverstone was in line to step in to stage next year's race if Donington failed to come through on the ambitious redevelopment.

However, Donington's case was last week forcefully argued by its marketing representatives ISG, a joint venture between sports media giant IMG and stadium finance specialists Bastion.

"It is nonsense to say that the Donington Park figures and debenture scheme does not stack up," said ISG chief executive Andrew Hampel.

"Through IMG and Bastion, ISG has vast experience and we are world leaders in the area of stadium and arena marketing.

"Without doubt, as paying customers, motorsport fans are ready for the same level of quality that fans of other leading sports have become accustomed to, and there is no reason that Donington Park cannot provide that."