Ascot Racecourse Announces Major Plans

Ascot is planning to have the finest racecourse in the world when the £180 million (U.S. $250 million) new grandstand is completed by June, 2007.

Five years in the planning, with another five to go if things go according to schedule, Ascot officials June 27 unveiled the long-awaited plans for the Royal course, which is located 30 miles to the west of London, England.

These plans involve moving the mile straight course 42 meters northwards to give more space for the new grandstand which will be six stories at its highest and incorporate an internal galleria running from one end to the other, with a lightweight roof structure made of tubular steel and self-cleaning Teflon-coated glass, and terraces at either end.

There will be a 190-room hotel at one end, with a restaurant overlooking the course, and the parade ring will move from one side to be directly behind the new grandstand, with covered capacity for 9,000 people.

HOK's Rod Sheard is the architect and he has designed the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, and the Stadium Australia which was used for the 2000 Olympics. He said it was rare for a racecourse to be able to completely re-build its grandstand so this has given him a unique opportunity to transform people's expectations.

Lord Hartington, Her Majesty's representative at Ascot, explained: "Ascot has redeveloped its racecourse just about every 50 years since it was founded in 1711.

"The Queen and the Prince Of Wales have seen the plans and seem to be happy with what they have seen. Five years ago I asked my team to design and build the finest racecourse in the world."

Planning consent is required from the local authority and because of the scale of the redevelopment the national government will also be involved, with approval needed from the Secretary of State for the Environment who could call a public inquiry which would delay the project. However, Ascot has consulted widely and believes the level of local opposition and the nature of the plans means that there is only a small risk of a public inquiry being convened.

Douglas Erskine-Crum, the Ascot chief executive, commented: "Whilst excellent nationally, we concluded that the present racecourse facilities would fall behind unless we redeveloped. We want to be the best.

"There should be a sense of theatre and excitement in the redeveloped Ascot and we want people to say wow."

The new stand will occupy the same amount of space as the existing grandstand, built in the early 1960s, and the overall capacity at Ascot will not increase above the present 80,000 racegoers.

Ascot stages Flat and jump racing and, while the four-day Royal Ascot meeting in June will be held throughout the three-year construction period, fixtures, particularly in the second year, will be moved to other British courses.

All racing at Ascot is currently on turf and there are no plans at the present to add a dirt track, but that has not been ruled out.

Erskine-Crum said: "In the longer term we are going to look at everything, including a dirt track.

"We signed an alliance last week with Breeders' Cup along with Longchamp. Personally, I think it is highly unlikely that Breeders' Cup will travel in the next 10 years.

"I think if it does travel it will need a dirt track and that is one of the reasons why we are looking into dirt racing. Racing is bound to get more inter-continental, not just international, and we have got to keep pace and be up there."