Robin Miller: Circuit of Wales - a fine line between bravery and foolishness

The Circuit of Wales is dead. That was the opening line in a Welsh newspaper last week and so it seems. But am I the only person this side of the border to greet the news with a tinge of regret?

It was, after all, a big audacious plan. And we need big audacious plans. That great motorcycle marque Triumph would not exist without the ambition of a house builder by the name of John Bloor.

And Norton, scoffed at by the sceptics including myself, has been reborn by the belief and energy of Stuart Garner. And, by the way, his amazing ability to persuade governmental agencies to back him.

Both men succeeded where traditional industry failed. What did they have, when faced by a wall of cynics and naysayers, that others didn’t. Belief and persistence.

Now it is Triumph who will supply engines for Moto2 next year. And it is perfectly possible that Norton will win the TT. And in all the hoo-ha over the potential takeover of Ducati by Harley-Davidson, it is Triumph who are much better placed financially to do the deal. But the canny Mr Bloor, who may have considered it, is probably saying, ‘No thanks’.

News of the Welsh governments rejection of the plan for the Welsh circuit broke on the eve of a Motorsport Industry Association bash at the House of Lords in London. Circuit bosses John Grant (Silverstone) and Christopher Tate (Donington) tried hard, and it has to be said with some success, to contain expressions of satisfaction at the outcome. They, together with the MSV circuits owned by Jonathan Palmer, had argued against the proposal on the basis that the UK didn’t need another circuit and certainly not one created with government help.

Very few circuits make money - the shining exception being Palmer and his combine of Brands Hatch, Oulton Park, Cadwell Park and Snetterton. And now Donington.

Silverstone, despite the hoopla of Formula 1, has consistently lost money which is why it was put up for sale. But it is a sobering thought that no other circuit in the world makes money from big events without government subsidy. Silverstone lost MotoGP to Wales because it was haggling over the fee, circa €4m. This figure pales into insignificance by the side of F1s €20m but not insubstantial when considering that the circuit relies almost totally from ticket sales.

The Circuit of Wales, run by an organisation with the rather grand title Heads of Valleys Development Corporation, presented Dorna with a higher bid for a longer term. Dorna took it, even though a sod hadn’t been turned, and now, with the benefit of hindsight, are surely regretting it because they have to go back to Silverstone or, the only alternative, Donington. No wonder those two circuit chiefs were stifling chuckles.

Big audacious goals are to be admired and their brave backers to be envied even. And there is no doubt that the CoW project was brave. But it is a fine line between bravery and foolishness and if anyone can be accused of foolishness it cannot be CoW Chief Michael Carrick, although there may other accusations that may be laid against him.

It is the Welsh government, and maybe Dorna, who took the bait. Both with the best of intentions, the former promoting industry in a run down area, the latter supporting a new purpose built circuit which, unlike many other countries, the UK has never had.

But apparent strengths can easily turn into weaknesses. It was the racing circuit which got all the attention rather than the creation of an industrial area which was going to create all the employment and revenue. And everybody knows that racing circuits, in general, do not make money.

Plus the fact that the figures being bandied about bordered on the unbelievable, certainly by the government in its latest submission stating that the number of jobs created by the £425m project would not be 6,000 but 600.

So after several years of claims and counterclaims and a £9.3m bill for the Welsh government, which does not include whatever payments have been made to Dorna, what was always a high risk project has, it seems, been buried in the Welsh valley where the sound of exhausts should have been echoing by now.

Is it all over? Well, as legendary US baseball player Yogi Berra once famously remarked: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” But the only profession likely to make money from what can only be described as a disaster are lawyers.

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