Horse racing faces battle in the sky

27.4.2008   (Observer)

Caroline Davies

Leading racehorse breeders are to fight controversial plans for a new aircraft
stacking zone above Newmarket, amid fears it could destroy the heart of Britain’s
multimillion-pound horseracing industry.

Plans that would see up to 33 planes an hour, circling over a major horse breeding
area, threaten to drive away the world’s top stud owners, including the ruler
of oil-rich Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, and Kirsten Rausing,
the Tetra Pak heiress.

Owners and trainers have hired aviation and planning law expert John Steel, QC, to force the National Air Traffic Services (Nats), the UK’s leading air-traffic
management company, to rethink its proposals, which they say could result in the
death of Newmarket as headquarters of the racing industry.

‘The proposed stacking is right over the top of the horse-breeding area,’ said
Alastair Watson, chairman of the Newmarket Stud Farmers Association and manager
of Rausing’s Lanwades stud.   ‘Breeders have chosen the area for its quiet environs.
There is obviously the possibility of them moving away.’

There are 60 studs in the Newmarket area, including Dalham Hall, owned by Sheikh
Mohammed, one of the world’s most famous racehorse owners, and British-owned Cheveley
Park, renowned as one of the most successful thoroughbred horse farms in Europe.    
The area provides breeding and training facilities for up to 3,000 horses, with
more than 7,000 jobs dependent on the industry.

An urgent meeting to discuss the proposals was attended by representatives from
Sheikh Mohammed’s stud, as well as from the Newmarket Stud Farmers’ Association,
the National Stud, the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association and Tattersalls, the
UK’s leading bloodstock auctioneers.   ‘Brood mares come from around the world
to be covered here.   It could really knock confidence,’ said Louise Kemble, chief
executive of the breeders’ association.

Consultation over the planned changes to the routes was announced in February.  
They include the creation of a new ‘hold’ just south of Newmarket.   The industry
has until 22 May to make submissions.   If the proposals are accepted by the Civil
Aviation Authority, planes will be flying as low as 4,000 feet over Newmarket
next year.

Local MP James Paice, shadow minister for agriculture, said feelings were running
high, and the plans could toll the knell for the town.   ‘If stud owners think
their horses might even be moderately disturbed they could consider relocating.
 These are international owners, they are not wedded to Britain,’ he said.  ‘That
would totally jeopardise Newmarket as the home of British horse racing.

‘There are real fears that the noise could be distressing to extremely valuable
mares and young foals.   They tell me it could cause mares to abandon foals.

‘This is an international business.  It is very mobile.   Newmarket had its problems
when they tried to impose VAT on horses 15 years ago.  It was eventually resolved,
but at the time Tattersalls was threatening to move lock, stock and barrel to
Ireland … It could happen again.’

Instead, Paice says that they could have planes stacking over the sea or the
M11. ‘Nats doesn’t seem to have thought it through.  It seems to have thought,
“Oh, this is a quiet piece of countryside where it won’t disturb too many people”,
without realising it’s a major horse breeding area.’

A petition has been started on the Number 10 website.   Mark Tompkins, chairman
of the Newmarket Trainers Federation, said it would have to act quickly.   ‘There
will be a tremendous number of planes in the stack and as Stansted builds a second
runway and Heathrow maybe a third; the traffic will only increase.   They are now
telling us that planes going into Luton will fly underneath this stack, therefore
causing more noise and fuel deposits.  The planes could pass overhead every 45

‘We have in Sheikh Mohammed, the world’s leading owner and breeder, and in Cheveley
Park Stud, the biggest British owner and breeder.  They have put an enormous amount
of investment into the area during the past 10 years or so.   If this stacking
system is allowed to be above us it will be the end of any tranquility and calm
that we have known.

‘The worry is that the owners of these establishments will move away – to anywhere
else in the world. And, as we have seen of late, investment in America and Australia,
as well as the Middle East is becoming more popular.  It would be a disaster for
Newmarket and the while of British racing if they decided to let these proposals
go ahead,’ Tompkins said.


Petition to No 10 Downing Street on the NATS proposals for Terminal Control North – by Rural Peace.

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to say No to the proposed flightpath
changes to Luton and Stansted airports.” More details

Submitted by Alastair Norman of Rural Peace – Deadline to sign up by: 25 March 2009