GP track plan stalls amid BCM red tape

City mum on 20-year lease request.

A PASSIONATE R620-million plan to bring international motor sports back to East London’s historic Grand Prix race track has been stalled by the Buffalo City Metro mayoral committee.

Uncertainty reigned this week between administrators and political heads over two clashing reports passed at a barely quorate and hastily convened city council meeting last Friday.

After a four-year grind, which saw the Border Motorsport Club’s proposal for a 20-year lease being directed to the defunct Buffalo City Development Agency, the proposal finally got through 22 city departments and into mayor Zukiswa Ncitha’s mayoral committee, which promptly hacked it down to 10 years.

The Dispatch has seen mayoral resolution (MMC) 379/13, which states the report approved by the administration is “updated by the inclusion of necessary information and documentation”.

Ncitha refused to comment while her spokesman Keith Ngesi would only say that deciding on the lease term was “council’s prerogative”.

This week, Mercedes-Benz SA, Kempston Motor Group and the Elidz supported Border Motorsport’s plan and the 4800 direct and indirect jobs it could generate.

Border Motorsport Club spokesman David Kirkman said he was still waiting to hear from council, but a 10-year lease was not enough time to inspire confidence from investors in the multibillion-rand international motor sport industry.

In a cost-benefit analysis, the club has told BCM that already in 2010, 55 days of racing generated R83-million for the city.

This was earned through ambulance services, security, catering, advertising, maintenance, accommodation, car hire, entertainment and fuel. TV coverage alone for BCM was valued at R38-million.

During its arduous journey through city bureaucracy, the Grand Prix project drew comment from the city planning division that the proposal was “desirable from a city planning, forward planning and economic development , as this upgraded facility of the Grand Prix Racing Track Circuit will bring tourism and revenue for the city”.

The mayoral committee confirmed the club could lease the track for R302000 a year, escalating at 12.5% a year “for a term of ten (10) years, subject to a review, taking into account the magnitude of the proposed development”.

Despite the setback, Kirkman said he was pleased that four years after the club was sent down the dead-end of having to pitch to the defunct Buffalo City Development Agency, the project was finally back on track. “It looks like we are going in the right direction, but we are waiting for official confirmation.”

As part of the R620-million investment, the club is proposing a R380-million revamp of the circuit which will include new pits, a new pit lane, a VIP and media centre, grandstands and a medical facility. A further R220-million needs to be spent on resurfacing the track and building a security fence.

Kirkman said the money would come from “motor racing enthusiasts internationally and locally. We don’t want to say who we are talking to because it would create a scramble, but it’s not a difficult amount if you think in euros.”

The proposal states that 1800 direct jobs and 3000 indirect jobs will be created during construction, and based on the success of race circuits in Malaysia and India, 500 permanent jobs.

East London’s project comes at a time when Cape Town has turned down an approach from Bernie Ecclestone to host F1. Kyalami is under pressure from suburban creep and two tracks have disappeared in Durban, Kirkman said.

At the same time, the sport had shot up in popularity and commands TV audiences of over 80 million people.

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