Letter: Power to close Pontefract Park has existed for 100 years

In this letter, Norman Gundill MBE, managing director of Pontefract Racecourse, responds to a previous letter regarding the closure of Pontefract Park on race days.

Saturday, 18th July 2020, 12:30 pm
In this letter, Norman Gundill MBE, managing director of Pontefract Racecourse, responds to a previous letter regarding the closure of Pontefract Park on race days.

In response to the letter from Norman Hardacre (‘Why should the park close on race days?’, Express, July 9).

Mr Hardacre is correct in his understanding that the land which comprises the park was “given” to the people of Pontefract, but he is clearly unaware that it was already a racecourse, hence the reason for the arrangements he complains of.

The land previously belonged to the Duchy of Lancaster, and King George III transferred it to Trustees for the benefit of the inhabitants of Pontefract and Tanshelf by Act of Parliament in 1780.

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However, the land had already been used as a racecourse for well over 100 years before that. There are records of races being run when Cromwell was besieging the castle in 1644.

In 1906 Pontefract Corporation promoted its own Act of Parliament and took over the trusteeship of the park. That act gave the corporation the specific power to lease the racecourse and to include provisions in the lease to prevent any persons not attending the races from gaining access.

The power to close the park has therefore existed for over 100 years.

The corporation entered into an agreement with Major General Sir Loftus Bates (who rebuilt several racecourses in the north of England). He formed The Pontefract Park Race Company Ltd (not Park Races).

The Race Company raised the money to build the basis of the current stands (much extended and improved in the last 30 years). The Race Company also laid out the original main entrance roads, and created the park lake.

The Race Company originally had the right to close the park for seven days before and after a race meeting. We were asked if we still needed this right when the lease was last renewed. Clearly we had no premonition of the current pandemic but having had to cope with two outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in the last 40 years we considered it prudent to keep it.

We did however agree to reduce the period to three days and gave the council an assurance we would only use it in exceptional circumstances, such as we are now in.

Although we have the right to close the park completely any day of the week we told the British Horseracing Authority, and the council, that we would restrict meetings which need to exclude the public from the park to mid-week afternoons in order to cause as little disruption to the prk users as possible.

The park is only closed from 7am to 7pm. Stage III of the Government’ s guidance on the return of elite sport specifically provides that it must be behind closed doors and the agreement between the British Horseracing Authority and the DCMS is that the public must be excluded from the area which the Race Company controls (ie, from the park).

With council cutbacks the Race Company now carries out tree pruning and dyke clearance but it is all done with the consent and under the guidance of the relevant council officials. The Race Company has also done a great deal of work which has benefited park users.

All these arrangements are a direct consequence of the fact that the racecourse predates the park by over 100 years. In a normal year there are, however, only 16 racedays. This year there will probably only be 10.