Leading article: London is no place for a Grand Prix

 

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Is London a city or a theme park? The question arises in the wake of the announcement of plans to stage a Grand Prix that would take in the capital's most famous sights and involve cars racing along such illustrious thoroughfares as Birdcage Walk, on the perimeter of St James's Park, at speeds of up to 180mph.

For Bernie Ecclestone, the billionaire chief executive of Formula One, a London Grand Prix would mark a further expansion of an empire unique in world sport in the riches it generates and the zeal with which it, in the parlance, opens up new markets.

In the past 15 years, Malaysia, Bahrain, China, India, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, South Korea and Turkey have all joined the Grand Prix circuit, and there is a logic to that development from both Mr Ecclestone's point of view and that of the host countries. That logic does not apply to a city whose "brand" needs no enhancement and whose streets are quite unsuited to the Formula One travelling circus.

Increasingly, London is being cast in the role of scenic backdrop to sporting, musical and royal extravaganzas. Hardly a summer weekend goes by without large swathes of the city that were not designed for the purpose being given over to public entertainment – an unavoidably disruptive trend that will reach its apogee with the Olympic Games.

As always with such events, we are told that a London Grand Prix will bring economic benefits. Mr Ecclestone says he will foot the £35m bill for staging the race, while marketing people have plucked from the air a figure of £100m for the amount that would be gained in takings from spectators and tourists.

How much of a tourism boom is generated by hosting big sporting events remains at best moot. Let's wait and see what visitor numbers are once the Olympics are under way. At the very least they are likely to be offset by the departure of locals keen to avoid the major inconveniences that loom; the flight from a city that has been turned into an enormous motor-racing circuit might be even more marked.

We are all for the celebration of London. But a Grand Prix would be closer to its desecration.

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