‘Don’t bury the Ulster Grand Prix’

Ulster Grand Prix Supporters Club members Des Stewart, Vanda Robinson, Alderman James Tinsley and Gail Bailie deliver the objection letters to the council.

Ulster Grand Prix Supporters Club members Des Stewart, Vanda Robinson, Alderman James Tinsley and Gail Bailie deliver the objection letters to the council.

The Ulster Grand Prix Supporters Club has met Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council to hand over more than 3,000 objection letters to plans for a 96-acre cemetery at the Ulster Grand Prix circuit.

The letters will be added to several hundred others already received by the council’s planning department, making it close to 3,500 objections within just a few weeks of the initial submission of the planning application.

The Ulster Grand Prix Supporters Club and promoters of the Ulster Grand Prix, the Dundrod & District Motorcycle Club, are united with many local residents in their opposition to the planned cemetery site on Quarterland Road, Dundrod, for which the only access would be via the world famous motorcycle racing circuit.

Planning consultancy Strategic Planning has said the proposed cemetery - a private facility - would bring a £35m investment and sustain up to 345 construction jobs during development, as well as six permanent jobs, and would help to address cemetery space shortages in Lisburn, Belfast and Newtownabbey.

The consultants have stressed that the cemetery would not operate on any race or practice days of the Ulster Grand Prix, but objectors fear that if the plan gets the green light, it could signal the death knell for the Ulster Grand Prix. And their message to the council is simple: “Don’t bury the UGP.”

Des Stewart, Chairman of the Ulster Grand Prix Supporters Club said: “With a hugely successful 2016 UGP just behind us, we are heartened that race fans far and wide feel strongly enough about the impact these plans could have on this international event to submit a letter of objection to Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council.

“The sheer volume of objections we have just delivered to the council demonstrates the important social, cultural and economic impact this event has and we stand by our view that were a cemetery to be built on the circuit, it would seriously endanger the future of the event.”

The Ulster Grand Prix is one of the biggest annual outdoor events in Northern Ireland, attracting tens of thousands of visitors from across the world. The economic impact is significant; spectator spend alone generates an estimated £2.5 million every year, and there are more than 10,000 commercial bed nights.

“During the Ulster Grand Prix the public roads are closed for three days, including the Quarterland Road, which is the only access point into the planned cemetery,” added Mr Stewart.

“It is customary in this country for burials to happen within three or four days of a death, and for daily access to be afforded to those who wish to visit graves. We just do not see how we could run this event in harmony with the daily business of a cemetery of this size and scale.

“I would like to reiterate that we feel that the applicant’s suggestion that they would close the cemetery on the days of racing is unpractical and unsustainable.

“Furthermore, I believe that planning has been granted for a cemetery and crematorium outside Moira with potential for expansion, also in the L&C area which is more centrally located and served by an excellent road network. When this comes to fruition any argument about the need for a cemetery in Dundrod would be entirely negated,” he said.

Lisburn & Castlereagh City Councillor, Alderman James Tinsley added: “Dundrod sits within my constituency, I have listened to the concerns of many local residents and am in agreement that this plan is not viable.

“Setting aside the potential negative impact this proposed cemetery might have on the Ulster Grand Prix, it is very difficult to see how this plan is viable from an infrastructure perspective.

“The country roads around Dundrod would not easily cope with the much higher volume of traffic a cemetery of this size would bring, and we must also consider the already elevated accident rate and the area’s propensity for inclement weather which forces the roads to close several times a year.”

Responding to the concerns raised by the objectors, Richard Bowman, Director of Strategic Planning, stated: “There has been extensive pre-application community consultation on the cemetery proposal since August 2015. Ulster Grand Prix officials were consulted at an early stage, attended the public information event and received assurances that the cemetery will not operate on race or practice days of the UGP. Any planning approval would be conditioned on this basis. The closure to accommodate the UGP will also be part of the terms and conditions for people purchasing burial plots in the cemetery. Given these points the UGP will be entirely unaffected by the Loughview Park Cemetery proposal at Dundrod.”

He added: “The site off the Quarterland Road has also undergone rigorous testing across a range of areas including ecology, hydrology, roads / traffic, landscape design and archaeology and is clearly suitable for a cemetery development. Furthermore, the cemetery represents a significant £35 million investment and will meet the severe need for burial provision across three council areas – Antrim & Newtownabbey, Belfast and Lisburn & Castlereagh. It will also bring with it a significant jobs boost, particularly during construction.

“A recent report commissioned by Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council estimated the capital costs of sourcing new land and developing a council owned and managed cemetery at £15 million. This private sector proposal at Dundrod therefore brings with it substantial savings for local ratepayers.”

Despite the consultant’s assurances, the Dundrod & District Motorcycle Club and the Ulster Grand Prix Supporters Club are still urging local residents and the wider racing community to write to Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council voicing their objections to the cemetery plan.