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18 January 2009

Could this spell the end for Croft, Combe and others?

With growing public nuisance offences (predominantly noise) growing against the majority of UK circuits, this decision is another nail in the coffin. In this case, it appears to be a family feud going back some decades, with relatives of previous circuit management who employed to develop the track, now deciding things have gone too far…for whatever reason.

I would finally add that although the family were given compensation of well over £100,000 to be paid in instalments of around £2000pa for several years; their court costs were said to be over £700,000. No mention of a costs award was made in the transcripts.

Though this decision may not critically affect the circuit directly, the precedent is crucial for future claims for compensation.

Neil Macfarlane of the “The Northern Echo” reports…


"Fears for future of racing circuit

Photograph of the AuthorBy Neil Macfarlane

THE future of a North-East racing circuit that generates £3m a year for the local economy depends on an Appeal Court decision over noise levels, motorsport chiefs said last night.

Barristers for Croft Circuit, near Darlington, are trying to overturn an order to pay £150,000 to a couple and their daughter, who live next to the track.

The family complained that their quality of life had been ruined by screeching tyres and revving engines.
Race organisers say that if the decision is upheld, it could open the gates to countless compensation claims from neighbouring residents, jeopardising the long-term future of the venue.

No decision has been reached, after a hearing was held at the Court of Appeal, in London, this week.

“We do feel like we have the sword of Damocles hanging over us,” said Dennis Carter, director of Croft-Promo- Sport, which organises the British Superbike Championships and the British Touring Car Championships at Croft. The events attract up to 30,000 people.

“Our future really depends on what the court decides.

“I do not want to sound too alarmist because I would like to think we can still find a way through this.
“The people at Croft do a fantastic job for us and I would really like it to continue. We will do everything we can to keep it going.

“It was a huge blow when the court decided we should pay damages. It is possible that there could be cuts if we have to pay this money out.

“Once we get the decision we will have to sit down and think very carefully about what to do next.”

Derek and Julia Watson and their daughter, Jill Wilson, live at Vince Moor East, Dalton- on-Tees, within about 300 metres of the circuit.

The family say their enjoyment of their homes has, for years, been gravely affected by the “loud, intrusive and repetitive noise”.

In an extremely rare decision last April, High Court judge Mr Justice Simon ruled all three had been victims of “noise nuisance” and ordered Croft-Promo-Sport to pay Mr and Mrs Watson £109,600 damages, and Mrs Wilson £40,000.

The family’s legal costs from this hearing alone were put at about £700,000.

This week, David Hart, representing the Watsons and Mrs Wilson in the Court of Appeal, said the criticism of the original ruling was wholly unjustified.

The Watson’s and Mrs Wilson are cross-appealing against Mr Justice Simon’s refusal to grant them an injunction restricting noisy racing activities on the racetrack to 40 days a year.

In his ruling last year, Mr Justice Simon said they had been “deeply affected by the noise from the circuit for a number of years”.

Their objection was not to car and motorbike racing events, which take place on the track on about 50 days a year, but to vehicle testing days and track days, when members of the public drive cars around the track at high speed.

The judge awarded them damages based on the “blight” on the value of their homes caused by the noise, and for their “loss of amenity” in their homes.

The Northern Echo contacted the Watson’s yesterday but the family declined to comment.
Richard Jones, representing Croft-Promo-Sport, said the court decision would have serious implications for the future of the racetrack and had left the company exposed to huge legal costs, and open to other potential claims by an “uncertain number” of neighbouring landowners.

Larry Carter, who handles public relations for Croft Circuit, said: “If any restrictions are put on Croft it would have huge implications for the local sporting fraternity and the local economy.

“It brings thousands of people to the area every year and is the only facility south of Knockhill, in Scotland, and north of Donnington. Motor sports fans from a huge catchment area go there.
“Financially, the circuit is probably worth £3m to the local economy. People come and stay in nearby hotels, eat at local restaurants and fill up their cars at the garages.

“If racing at Croft goes, it would be a blow to everybody in the region.”

Given the difficulty and importance of the case, ruling judges at the Court of Appeal are expected to reserve their decision until later this year.

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