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Home Ashford News Article
by business editor Trevor Sturgess
Folkestone racecourse hosts its final meeting today after the stalling of a proposed housing lifeline.
While owners say the closure is temporary, there are fears that it could shut its doors for good.
The 114-year old course at Westenhanger, near Hythe, is owned by Arena Racing company (ARC) and is its second venue in three days to close.
Hereford, where racing dates back to 1771, shut at the weekend. ARC, whose non-executive chairman is Lord Howard of Lympne, former MP for Folkestone and Hythe, claims neither made money.
The original proposal for 820 homes was rejected by a planning inspector who said the numbers were too high and would semi-urbanise the largely rural area.
However, the firm says it remains in talks with Shepway council over a revised development plan that could see racing return one day.
Shepway council leader Robert Bliss (Con) said earlier this year: "We will do everything we can to secure the long-term future of the racecourse and will explore possible solutions to the challenges raised by the planning inspector."
ARC, which owns some 17 courses, including Lingfield and Doncaster, is the largest racecourse operator in the UK.
It says Folkestone suffers from outdated facilities.
Horse racing has been hit by a gradual switch from on-course betting to online gambling. But businesses have supported the course through corporate hospitality.
ARC spokesman Kate Hills said around two staff would be retained to look after the course during its closure.
"It will be secured and maintained and if we can get racing back, it wouldn't take much to put it back on track," she said. "It's back to the drawing board."
Revenue will come from the War and Peace Show, which is being switched from the Hop Farm at Paddock Wood to the course next July - under a new name War and Peace Revival.
But Ms Hills said there were no plans to let the site to other event organisers.
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