Rules barring motor races on public roads may be eased

Nigel Mansell Nigel Mansell drove down Regent Street to promote the British grand prix - could it one day host a race?

The restrictions on holding motor races on public roads across Britain could be eased by the new government.

The change would allow councils to hold races, or festivals, on city streets or on rural hill roads, a Conservative conference fringe meeting heard.

It could raise £40m for councils over five years and create jobs, were they allowed to stage them, it heard.

Conservative MP Ben Wallace said it was "bizarre" that the legal clause from the 1960s had not yet been axed.

Mr Wallace, who is helping to set up an all-party parliamentary group, told the Motor Sports Association meeting it was a simple clause to change that would have no cost implications.

He said the new government was "determined" in its bid to scrap what is effectively a ban on using public highways - but it had been frustrated, so far, in being able to identify which minister had responsibility for it.

Former Formula One world champion Nigel Mansell gave his backing to the idea at the meeting, saying it would be "great for the country" and bring visitors and pride to parts of the country staging such events.

He said the government should "embrace motor sport", given the country's world leading position, and its ability to help provide opportunities and focus for young people.

Top Gear power

Mr Wallace, a parliamentary aide to Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, agreed, saying that the motor industry needed to "educate law makers" about the boost it could bring to the economy and to young people.

The law, as it stands, effectively stops races being held on public roads in England, Wales and Scotland because an Act of Parliament is needed - at a huge cost - for one to be allowed, such as the former series of Birmingham city centre races.

The proposal is to "tweak" the clause so that it would be up to local authorities to decide whether or not to allow a motor racing event to be held.

Labour's Lord Rooker said he did not think there would be any problem getting such a change through the House of Lords.

The meeting heard from the Motor Sports Association's Colin Hilton about initiatives to make the sport more accessible to young people - with its GoKart scheme allowing youngsters to try karting for £5.

And Richard Phillips, from Silverstone Circuits, highlighted its education work and the arrival of overseas companies to the area because of the UK's world-leading expertise.

Mr Wallace said the sport should be "more robust" in selling its virtues - improving road safety, engineering innovation and environmental actions, as well as bringing jobs and investment to the UK.

He said the challenge was to convert the millions of people who watch Top Gear and similar programmes into political power, so that MPs recognised what the sport and the industry brought to their constituency and constituents.

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