£280m Circuit of Wales plan put on hold by Welsh government

Artist impression of circuit Developers want to see the race track up and running by 2015-16

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A £280m motor racing circuit in south Wales has been put on hold while the Welsh government decides its future.

Councillors backed the Circuit of Wales development near Ebbw Vale, Blaenau Gwent at a special meeting earlier this month.

But the Welsh government has now issued a holding direction which gives ministers more time to decide whether they should call in the plans.

Gwent Wildlife Trust has said the circuit will damage habitats.

Outline planning permission for the race track was granted unanimously by Blaenau Gwent council on 10 July.

'Under consideration'

Developers want the track to host all motor racing championships - except Formula One.

Supporters say it will generate £50m a year for the economy.

The Welsh government is undergoing consultation over a request to call in the plans for inspection.

But in a new statement, a Welsh government spokesman said it had issued a holding direction over the circuit.

"The holding direction only prevents the council from granting planning permission. It does not prevent the council from continuing to process the application," said the spokesman.

"The Welsh ministers have been asked to call in the application and those requests are still under consideration.

"The holding direction provides the Welsh ministers with more time within which to consider whether or not the application should be called in for their own determination."

Michael Carrick, Chief Executive of Heads of the Valleys Development Company said: "We are very confident in the outline planning application we have submitted and are delighted that we received the unanimous backing of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council.

"The Welsh government has asked for more time to look at the project and we're happy to continue engaging with them and all stakeholders to ensure we address, as much as possible, the specific concerns they have."

Environmental impacts

Graham Hillier from Natural Resources Wales (NRW) said it would meet the developer to find ways to reduce the circuit's environmental impacts.

"We will continue working with the developer and local authority to get the best possible outcome for both the environment, community and the economy," he said.

But NRW said it has not asked the Welsh government to call in the plans at this stage.

The project covers 830 acres (335 hectares) of land next to the Rassau industrial estate and will be built by the Heads of the Valleys Development Company (HVDC).

It claims the track represents the largest ever privately-led investment programme UK motor sport has ever seen.

The backers want construction to start by the end of 2013 and say it will create 3,000 jobs during that phase and between 4,000 and 6,000 people will be employed once the development is complete.

Prof Garel Rhys, chairman of the Welsh Automotive Forum, said the scheme was a wide-ranging project.

"I think the (Welsh) government is clearly trying to protect itself from any unintended consequences because this is a massive project and the size of it, I think, is not entirely appreciated by most observers," said Prof Rhys on BBC Radio Wales.

He said the circuit was mainly aimed at top class motorcycle racing although it could be used for cars too.

The plans also included a hotel with conference facilities along with a business and leisure complex.

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