The UK came one step closer to gaining a brand new race track on Wednesday. The Circuit of Wales received outline planning permission for the project to build a racetrack and engineering center near Ebbw Vale, in South Wales. This means that the track can go ahead, once funds have been found to build it, though the project is still subject to review by Welsh government inspectors.
The development of the Circuit of Wales is aimed at bringing a major engineering and technology center to a region of Wales which has suffered massive unemployment since the disappearance of the steel and coal industries. The objective is to build a race track to attract visitors and tourists to the region, and a technology center to provide permanent employment in a region once famed for engineering excellence. The circuit is set to field motorsports in a vast range of disciplines, from MotoGP and World Superbikes to World Touring cars to motocross. A Formula One round is not envisaged for the track, as Silverstone has that contract fairly well wrapped up.
The project is modeled on the Motorland Aragon project near Alcañiz in Spain. The autonomous region of Aragon needed to bring employment to one of the most deserted parts of the region, and the building of a race track and technology center has helped to do so. Just how successful they have been remains open to debate. Some parts of the originally planned technology complex have failed to materialize, demand not being as strong as had been envisaged. The circuit remains open in part due to the subsidizing of the MotoGP round at Aragon, which helps raise the profile of the region and attract visitors to the region. The Aragon autonomous community believes it receives a multiple of the investment in makes in terms of exposure for the race.
The question is, can the Circuit of Wales be more successful than the Motorland Aragon track? The project first has to secure funding, with the Welsh regional government provding a small part of the GBP 280 million the circuit requires. Most of that money will have to be raised from private investors, and persuading investors such as pension funds will be a much tougher job. The development company behind the project will have to persuade investors that the project can provide a return on investment if they are to raise the necessary funds.
Opposition to the project has come from environmental organizations, as the development is close to the Brecon Beacons national park. But there has also been opposition from existing track owners, according to the BBC. Jonathan Palmer, chairman of the Association of Motor Racing Circuit Owners, which comprises 17 UK race tracks, warned that the project could turn into a white elephant, given the scale of investment needed.
Chris Herring, consultant to the Heads of the Valleys development company who are behind the project, is confident that construction can begin very quickly, according to a report on the Bikesportnews website. The circuit part of the development could start as early as the end of the year, and the track be ready to host its first race in 2015. The technology park surrounding the circuit would be developed in parallel, and the building of the circuit is not necessarily dependent upon the technology park.