It’s the biggest development at York Racecourse since the construction of the Ebor Stand a decade ago. STEVE CARROLL was given a first look at plans to transform the Knavesmire track over the next few years.
A MERE third of an acre is the key to a development project which could transform the way we view York Racecourse.
The area, a strip of grass just behind the northern wall of the world famous track, unlocks a £5 million project that would alter markedly how racing is conducted at the 281-year-old Knavesmire venue.
You would barely notice it to walk past, but, should City of York Council planners agree to vary the racecourse’s existing lease, and realign the northern perimeter wall, big changes could come from the addition of such a small piece of land.
Subject to planning permission being granted, it would bring a new pre-parade ring, saddling boxes and a two storey weighing room.
That would then free valuable space down one of the main walkways of the track, allowing builders to unveil once more a hidden jewel of the racecourse in the John Carr Grandstand, replace the current champagne bar, and to revamp the existing weighing room into a sought-after restaurant.
Straightening up the wall from the existing northern gates is how it would be achieved. That barrier currently slopes away on a diagonal from the track entrance but, by squaring that to the current access road, the racecourse can add 0.33 of an acre.
While improving the facilities for horses and horsemen was the main aim, the plans, if they come through a successful consultation period and get the go-ahead from City of York Council planners, would potentially provide so much more.
“What we wanted to do was address some of the issues around equine facilities and the potential conflicts between people and horses at the northern end,” said James Brennan, the racecourse’s head of marketing and sponsorship.
“We couldn't find a way to fit it all in so we thought about how we might create the vital extra space and hopefully get it leased to us, the magic key to make it all fit is about a third of an acre. It all starts with the equine facilities but once you make the changes that we propose to make to the pre-parade ring and to the weighing room, it creates space and the opportunity to showcase the John Carr Building.”
Brendan Phelan is the lead architect for the project, who has the new stand at Galway Racecourse listed among his achievements, while Chris Clayton, involved with major developments at Chester Racecourse, is co-ordinating the scheme.
Paul Roberts, of Turnberry Consulting, is providing expert advice on the planning process, a role he has also performed for the New York Racing Association, and York-based landscape architect Patrick James is also part of the team.
The plans propose landscaping, while provision for disabled racegoers is also an integrated part of the development proposals.
Should the plans gain favour, much of the work would take place in the six-month spells between York’s racing seasons.
Brennan added: “It is an exciting scheme. We are about horseracing and, at the core of the scheme, are things that every single horse that comes here would use. They would use the saddling boxes, the pre-parade ring and the wash down area.
“The jockeys, whether it be Frankie Dettori, or an apprentice, will have facilities in the new weighing room. “Our fundamental is horse racing. We are an entertainment business and this would make significant improvements to that.”
The plans can be viewed at the course today, from 9am to 7pm, tomorrow (9am to 5pm), and from 9am to 6pm on Monday and Tuesday.
Jockeys’ facilities will be brought into the 21st Century
How the new weighing room could look
Racecourse bosses say the proposal is for a new weighing room “fit for the 21st century”.
It would include a medical room, physiotherapy room, female riders’ changing room and jockeys’ lounge, none of which were considered when the original building opened 100 years ago.
Built on two storeys, the ground floor area would be nearly 60 per cent larger than the current facility, while the second floor would have a potential space for media press conferences and a stewards’ dining room.
Overall, there would be more changing space for riders, who would access the parade ring through a set of steps, and there would also be more operating space for officials.
Saddling up for new-look boxes
A proposed pre-parade area, flanked by new saddling boxes
Moved from its existing spot to where the saddling boxes now reside, the new pre-parade area is a proposed 1,100 sq m – 39 per cent larger than the current facility.
It would be flatter than the current version, which is on a slope, and would give viewers both a better perspective and more space. The existing boxes would be demolished and rebuilt to modern standards and would be more spacious.
The wash down area, close to the track, would mean horses who do not finish in the places could arrive, be washed down, and leave back to the stables in Tadcaster Road with the minimum of fuss.
Vets, farriers and officials would also have new facilities.
There’s food for thought in redevelopment
An artist’s impression of how the current weighing room could be developed
The space occupied by the current weighing room and pre-parade ring would be redeveloped.
The existing Moet Pavilion would be replaced with a new champagne bar that would have additional toilets and a roof terrace that looks toward the parade ring. Racegoers would even have a view of the winning post from the terrace.
The current weighing room would benefit from a refit, with one option being considered to transform it into a steak restaurant.
Facelift aims to bring 1754 John Carr Grandstand into the limelight
Currently shielded at the back of the champagne lawn behind a selection of bars and eateries, both the racecourse and the council wanted to do more with the Grade II* Listed John Carr Grandstand – the oldest building of its type in racing.
First opened in 1754, the plans propose that the facade of the stand be thrust more into the spotlight. The tented canopies in front would be removed and a new single span canopy, with a roof made of the same material used in Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena – a polymer called EFTE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) – would protect it and provide a natural area to stand and watch.
It would act as a wet weather cover for spectators and a frame to the building. The lightweight structure would allow light through it meaning grass lawns beneath it would grow.