The upcoming London Formula E race will be the last to be held at Battersea Park.
Although last year’s event marked a thrilling end to the first season of the all-electric racing series, with the drivers’ championship won by a single point (coincidentally, just a single point separates the title challengers ahead of this summer’s London double-header), and despite Formula E’s presence netting the local council nearly £3million to spend on the park and local amenities, not everyone was happy to have the world-leading sport arrive in the UK’s capital.
Ever since the electric racing series struck a deal with Wandsworth Council to run a British round of the championship in the London park, a well-funded cohort of local residents has led a campaign against the event. Chief among the concerns of what Formula E boss Alejandro Agag had called “a noisy minority” were damage to trees (of which evidence was sketchy), tyre marks left on the path used as the circuit (large parts of which had been resurfaced at Formula E’s expense), noise from a helicopter used for TV filming and the closure of parts of the park to the public while the track was being built and in use.
The opposition group even went so far as to challenge the race in the courts, with a High Court date set this week to review the case. Save Battersea Park campaigners revealed that they had reached an out-of-court settlement and Formula E planners have decided not to try returning to the park in future.
“We have withdrawn our court action following an agreement being reached with Formula E,” the campaign group statement reads. “A current action for Judicial Review is due to be heard in the High Court on 24/25 May between the claimant James Jackson and defendant Wandsworth Council with Formula E as an interested party. This action challenges the hosting of the Formula E Championship in Battersea Park. James Jackson supported by the Battersea Park Action Group is pleased to now announce that a satisfactory agreement has been reached over the future use of Battersea Park. James Jackson will now withdraw his Judicial Review action with his costs to date being met.”
Wandsworth Council confirmed today that an agreement had been reached that ensures the event on July 2 and 3 goes ahead but that it will be the last.
“Formula E has notified us that they will be holding their final races in Battersea Park this summer and that from 2017 onwards they will be seeking alternative locations,” Wandsworth Council’s community services spokesman Councillor Jonathan Cook says in a statement. “Our understanding is that this now includes the possibility of a street circuit in central London, which has always been their preferred option but was not previously possible.”
The event has not been without benefit to the council and local residents. “We have secured a financial agreement with Formula E which includes a compensation package for loss of income in 2017,” Cook goes on. “This means that the total amount the council will receive from Formula E for staging these racing events in the park has reached £2.85m. Some of this money has been spent on maintaining and improving Battersea Park, while the rest is helping to fund the vital frontline services that our residents rely on the most like services for vulnerable children, libraries, day centres for older people, support for disability groups and other important functions like fixing potholes and keeping our streets clean.”
The race had not been without detractors among race fans, many of whom had criticised the lack of visibility and trackside access, direct results of the tree-lined nature of the park. A city-centre street circuit closer to what Formula E usually races on could provide superior spectator experience. The staging of a race closer to central London has long been desired; today, reports emerged which suggest plans are afoot to hold a race around Buckingham Palace.
“We had races in Paris and Berlin that were right in the heart of the city, which were a fantastic success,” Agag told the Evening Standard. “We’ve had preliminary conversations with the GLA, but there’s been no permission or route authorised yet. I love Battersea Park, but you’re effectively in a park and all you see is trees — this would be a view of London’s landmarks. We have reached an agreement with residents, some of who were objecting and protesting, that this will be the last race in Battersea Park. The judicial review had been withdrawn.”
A spokesperson for newly-elected Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “The Mayor intends to work with FIA Formula E to explore other sites in the capital.”
This news follows a leaked season three calendar which showed that London had been omitted from season three plans. Losing a British race would be a great shame for a sport which is headquartered in London, which includes British companies Virgin, McLaren, Jaguar and Williams, and which includes British drivers Sam Bird (who won at Battersea Park in 2015 to the delight of home fans), Oliver Turvey and Mike Conway.
However, should an agreement be struck with city officials and a new venue found, Formula E racing could yet remain in the heart of Britain’s capital. Fingers crossed.