WORK on the new £315 million Circuit of Wales racetrack in Ebbw Vale is scheduled to begin later this year, developers have told the Argus.
It follows Wednesday’s announcement that the British MotoGP looks set to be held at the Rassau-based racetrack for the next decade.
Circuit of Wales will host the event from 2016 but its developers will have the right to promote it and choose a location for next year’s Grand Prix because building on the proposed site has not yet started.
The deal between Dorna, the championship’s commercial rights holders, and the Circuit of Wales is a five-year contract with the option for a further five year extension.
Dorna currently stages 18 MotoGP rounds annually across four continents, cumulatively drawing around three million fans to the trackside. TV coverage of these events extends to more than 200 countries and territories that receive live or same-day delayed broadcasts, reaching more than 337 million households worldwide on 60 networks.
But with the British round of the championship taking place at the end of August each year, Peter Thomas, who is responsible for the project’s planning, has refuted suggestions the track will not be ready in two years’ time. Sources at Silverstone were quoted in the media yesterday raising questions about whether the project could be delivered on time.
Mr Thomas said: “We are aiming to be on site by the end of this year or January next year. This fits in with our programme to be ready to hold the MotoGP in 2016.
“When the location for the Olympics is announced, nothing has been built. You don’t get people saying ‘oh, you’ve got the Olympics but it’s not built yet’ – I find it strange that people are saying that [with the Circuit of Wales]. You lock down the event and then you build it, otherwise you’re just waiting for events to come to you.”
Silverstone is the current host of the British MotoGP and had wished to renew the agreement before Wednesday’s announcement.
Circuit of Wales will be the UK’s first high-tech, low-carbon motor racing facility. The 830-acre complex aims to attract an estimated 750,000 visitors a year, generate £50 million per year for the UK economy, and create at least 4,000 full-time jobs, according to Heads of the Valleys Development Company (HVDC).
The Welsh Government has supported the venture financially, but the amount of public investment involved is unclear.
The project has also suffered setbacks partly due to opposition by environmental bodies, such as Natural Resources Wales, who have since been satisfied with the work being done to limit the project’s environmental impact.
Graham Hillier, of NRW, said: “We have always recognised the importance of this development for the local community. Equally, we would have failed in our statutory duties if we had not raised the concerns about the impact this proposed development could have on the environment.
“Following lengthy discussion with the developers, we have agreed how the potential impacts of this development could be mitigated.
“Natural Resources Wales seeks to work with developers from an early stage to assist them as they plan their schemes to not only minimise the impact, but also to secure environmental benefits for people, the economy and wildlife.”
Michael Carrick, chief executive of HVDC, said delays and opposition were inevitable with projects of such large proportions.
He added Blaenau Gwent was initially chosen as the venue for Circuit of Wales due to it being “one of the most impoverished areas in the European Union”.
Mr Carrick said: “This is a significant economic and sustainable project that is committed to Wales for 10 years.
“MotoGP is the pinnacle of global motorcycle racing and expectations within the series and of its millions of fans worldwide are for a truly world class event at iconic and state-of-the-art venues. It will be huge for the area.”
Carmelo Ezpelata, CEO of Dorna, said: “The racetrack itself is exciting and this is very important. Nothing is 100 per cent certain but all the guarantees are there for this event to be held in Wales in 2016. It will give exposure [of Ebbw Vale] to the rest of the world.”
The announcement has also been welcomed locally.
Jan Sidoli, owner of Caffe Sidoli’s in Ebbw Vale, said: “The consensus of opinion is that it will bring jobs to an area where it is needed. My concern is whether these jobs will be given locally. But we are very pleased.
“There’s a lot of unemployment here and although we’ve had some regeneration work here lately, it hasn’t actually brought in the jobs we need. Hopefully [the Circuit of Wales] will change that and provide good jobs for years to come.”
Laura Hayden, owner of Rassau-based Glo Beauty and Tanning Salon (corr), said: “It’s quite deprived here so this is fabulous news. If it’s going to bring in jobs then great because there aren’t many jobs for young people in the area.”
Councillor Hedley McCarthy, leader of Blaenau Gwent council, said: “On behalf of the community in Blaenau Gwent, we are absolutely delighted that Dorna is bringing the British MotoGP to the Circuit of Wales.
“The MotoGP series is an amazing championship that has provided a stimulant and confidence for the growth of infrastructure in a number of similar areas to ours around the world in recent years. We look forward to welcoming the teams, riders, officials, media and fans to Blaenau Gwent.”
Blaenau Gwent AM Alun Davies said: "I wholeheartedly welcome this announcement as I am a strong supporter of the Circuit of Wales.
"This news presents a great many opportunities for so many people and I look forward to working with the developers and others on the project.
"My focus will be to look at how the circuit can be maximised to benefit the people of Blaenau Gwent and our valleys for generations to come."
Blaenau Gwent MP Nick Smith said the announcement was a boost for employment in the area.
He said: “The global appeal of Moto GP cannot be understated. It is very welcome news to see that a long-term agreement is in place.
“Other investors will see this as a concrete proposal and although there are surely twists and turns ahead, it is an important step towards bringing world-class motorsport and jobs to Blaenau Gwent.”
Cllr John Williams, who represents the Rassau ward, said: “It is going to encourage investment – it is good news. Let’s take it a little bit further and make sure we have got the funding in place and we can go to town on it then. We have come a long way.”
William Graham, South East Wales AM, said: “Silverstone have lost the contract and they are very upset about it. If it comes to Ebbw Vale, that’s really good.
“There is not going to be a race meeting every day but the bottom line is that if someone was offering 30 jobs, if it was 300 jobs then they would be happy.”
But his colleague, South Wales East AM Mohammad Asghar, has questioned the financial viability of the project, saying the news should be met with caution.
The Welsh shadow minister for sport said: “Any progress on regeneration projects in one of Wales’ most deprived communities is welcome, but these plans must be scrutinised closely.
“Whilst I recognise the potential economic benefits of this project and support it in principle, the Welsh Government needs to provide guarantees that all the funding required from the private sector to bring it to fruition has been secured.
“The Welsh Government’s decision to invest considerable sums of public money must carry an assurance that the Circuit of Wales has sufficient private backing to deliver the project and ensure taxpayers do not lose out.
“This proposal is not just about bringing a world-class racing track to South Wales, but a major regeneration including a hotel and retail complexes in a deprived community where skilled jobs are in demand.
“A motor racing circuit in the heart of the South Wales Valleys would be a major shot in the arm of the Welsh economy and another opportunity to enhance Wales’ reputation as a venue for international sporting contests, but requires careful consideration to avoid taxpayers losing out.”
The news comes weeks after a 25-year partnership deal was agreed between the racetrack’s developers and Chinese solar manufacturer, Hanergy, which will see their solar panels form a solar park site integrated within all the venue’s buildings.