Published: 18:56, 29 March 2021
| Updated: 16:12, 30 March 2021
Owners of a popular karting circuit warn it could be closed or sold after planners rejected a lifeline planning application.
Bosses at Buckmore Park near Chatham submitted an application to Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council (TMBC) to allow the circuit to rent out its unused overflow car park to commercial tenants and generate much-needed income to pull the business through the pandemic.
However, planning officers rejected the application before it had the chance to be discussed by councillors on the planning committee.
Commenting on the decision, Buckmore Park’s Rich Martell, said: “The combination of three lockdowns, not qualifying for the initial Government financial support, and the simple fact of a changing market, meant this application was effectively our last hope to save the business.
“The irony is that the planners have undermined their own policy of supporting community facilities for recreation, leisure and culture by blocking our ability to generate much needed revenue from an unused car park.
"By listening to a small but vocal group of private karters, the planners have failed to understand how the business operates and have effectively consigned Buckmore Park to the history books.”
Planning officers felt by removing overflow car parking in the paddock area – which was previously used by private owner-drivers – activities at the karting circuit would be severely reduced.
However, it has been four years since regular private-owner events took place at Buckmore Park, with the circuit having focused solely on recreational karting for the public since November 2017.
Under the plans, some 43 overflow parking spaces would also have been retained to ensure demand could still be met on the circuit's busiest days.
During the pandemic, in an attempt to cut costs Buckmore Park had to reduce its workforce from 50 to just two members of staff.
As well as this, as a sport, karting has changed over the last decade and was already facing financial struggles before the pandemic.
The circuit now depends almost entirely on the leisure market, such as office away-days, stag-dos or birthday parties, and has to compete against E-sports on games consoles.
Mr Martell added: “This rejection is hugely disappointing and we feel our proposals have been refused out of hand.
"We had dropped our plans for a new building on the site, and believe none of the original planning issues raised, such as operating hours, were insurmountable.
“Having been forced to close for more than 200 days in the last year, and not being in a position to reopen when lockdown measures ease, the opportunity to secure a commercial rent from the use of the paddock car park was our only hope of survival.”
The paddock is already permitted as an overflow car park, and in effect the planners have rejected the circuit’s plans to continue to use it as a commercial car park, and generate much needed income for the business.
The owners are now considering their options, which include appealing this refusal or closing the circuit for good and putting the site up for sale.
In 2015, the popular track – which opened in 1963 – was bought by late motorsport legend John Surtees and is now run by his daughter, Leonora.
The venue enjoyed an extensive £150,000 refurbishment in 2014 when former owner Bill Sisley installed a new grandstand and upgraded the paddock.