DUP would strongly oppose a housing development at Down Royal, says Poots
The DUP would oppose the redevelopment of the Down Royal racecourse site for housing or any other non-commercial purposes, according to Lagan Valley MLA Edwin Poots.
Mr Poots spoke out after it emerged that the Down Royal Corporation of Horse Breeders (DRCHB), which has staged racing at the venue since 1789, will leave the site when its lease expires on December 31.
The DRCHB is currently searching for new headquarters, while racecourse landowners Merrion Property Group have said that horse racing will remain at the "centre" of the site.
Yesterday, Mr Poots told the Belfast Telegraph that all local DUP councillors and MLAs were opposed to changing the current use of the site.
"We would be opposed to that particular area being developed for non-commercial purposes," he said.
"They may wish to use the buildings better than what has been the case up to now, and that's entirely legitimate and reasonable - you have hospitality facilities there and so forth.
"They may take other opportunities, but certainly if someone was to come in there and redevelop that, for housing for example, that's not something that they would receive support from us to do.
"We wouldn't back any proposal for housing at the site and we would be hoping that the race course and the golf course could continue to be used for those purposes."
Mr Poots said that the DRCHB had "turned the site around" from "very difficult circumstances in the late 1990s," and that it was "somewhat unfortunate that an agreement couldn't be found between the new owners and the Corporation."
UUP MLA Robbie Butler said racing was of "primary importance" to Down Royal, and any future development of the racecourse "should be complementary to what Down Royal racecourse has always provided for the area."
"It's regionally significant," he said.
"Racing is synonymous with Down Royal. I would struggle to see circumstances or reasons why I would support houses on that site."
Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn said the owners may now try to "modernise" the site and "get some more use" out of it.
"They may come up with some other events that it may be useful for, they've no intention of stopping the racing," he said.
"It's a huge space, there's a golf course and the race days are well-supported but I think apart from that there's not much else."
When asked if he would support any future housing development at the site, Mr Lunn said: "Who knows what's in the future, but they certainly didn't indicate to me that they would have any plans for building houses.
"If they were going to put half a dozen houses in some unused corner of the site who would object, but if they are going to put 500 houses close to the race course people would object.
"I would treat any application on its merits."
Chairman of DRCHB Jim Nicholson revealed yesterday that his organisation had already viewed two potential new locations and that there was another site "in the offing," but said they were "not in negotiations at the minute."
Mr Nicholson said on Tuesday that there was "every likelihood that Down Royal will find a new home."
"We have done everything we can - we offered to purchase the place, the track, the whole lot. We made a very significant offer to increase the rent we paid, we offered a seamless transfer so they could open on day one with no problems," he said.
"I don't think we could have done any more.
"The owner is a businessman, he is entitled to do as he is doing - I can't criticise a businessman for exercising his right to do whatever he wants to do."
A spokesperson for Merrion Property Group (MPG) yesterday told the Belfast Telegraph that it did "not have any plans to build houses at Down Royal".
He added: "MPG is working on commencing racing in January 2019.
"There will be no period of no racing, Merrion will be staging racing from the start of 2019 onwards."
In a statement released on Tuesday, MPG said it had "always stressed our determination to assume the day to day operational management of Down Royal," and said it was the "beginning of an exciting new era for Down Royal."