NIMBYs nuke Battersea Park race

Current E London 2015 Dan Bathie Top Shots Formula E Virgin Racing car at speed on Battersea Park track

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“We have withdrawn our court action following an agreement being reached with Formula E,” the campaign group statement reads.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.

Luke Smith

8 Comments

  • Tobi says:

    I’m a fan but Battersea Park was definitely the wrong place. FE should be run through the streets of the capital where everyone can actually see it! It also wasn’t just a few rich NIMBYs in Battersea, the action was financed by crowd funding over at Crowd Justice as a lot of locals on both sides of the river were unhappy that the park was effectively closed for over three weeks due to the setup and takedown. There were also a lot of other issues, for example the zoo being forced to board their animals elsewhere as the RSPCA wouldn’t let them remain during the races, etc. Wandsworth Council knew they didn’t have a legal leg to stand on, they never should have offered to host it in the park in the first place, hence they settled at the 11th hour, agreeing to pay all costs and terminating the agreement to host further races after this year’s.

    • Ross Ringham says:

      Thanks for commenting. The statement from the council seem to suggest that Formula E made the decision to look elsewhere rather than the council terminating the agreement; hence the additional payment. Ross

      • Tobi says:

        Wandsworth Council and to some extent FE are probably just trying to save face, hence the non-disclosure clauses. If the action group had won against the council which many in the legal profession thought was likely then FE would have been left without a venue for this year’s race and they would no doubt have sought substantial recompense from the council. The deal appears to be that if the race was allowed to go ahead unchallenged this year, then the council and FE would agree to terminate the agreement to use Battersea Park for future races.

  • Paul says:

    The NIMBYs were the Tory councillors who don’t live by Battersea Park and wouldn’t put up with an event in their backyard – but voted FE through against all local opposition, all interest groups, and two polls which showed a vast majority against. We had to do the Council’s job and look after the interests of residents – sad, but we won. How can a 2 mile concrete ring and the park closed for almost four weeks at the height of summer ever be right? The set up and health and safety standards were awful. And you like others say it was a world-class event – but The BBC Sport website gave not one sentence to either the Paris or Berlin e-Prix which Agag sees as his flagship events. Not a single word. I wish Formula E well; they showed maturity in listening to residents, and we had some really great interactions with Formula E fans. But Battersea Park was all wrong. I am an ex-petrolhead and it was blindingly obvious to me that the track was too narrow, the track to be obscured by the wonderful century-old plane trees, the environmental footprint too damaging. If they have to have a popup track in London next time, let it be on existing paved streets, with good views. Then everyone wins.

    • Ross Ringham says:

      Thanks for commenting. I must point out, however, that our article does address some of the downsides of the track and does not use the phrase “world class event”. Ross

  • Tom Spencer says:

    I attended last year’s race as a fan. As a former resident of South London, I was excited to see such a world-class event hosted in Battersea Park and was pleased to note the amount of additional trade that the race brought for local businesses – local coffee shops and restaurants were bustling and doing a roaring trade.

    While the management of the event – over-zealous security and under-educated event staff particularly – left something to be desired, the event ran smoothly. It was clear to any spectators (and from the comments of race-goers) that this was a fun, affordable and exciting family day out, and had attracted a large number of people who were not traditional motorsport fans.

    The park’s setting provided a truly unique backdrop at the track and on TV. It was a global advert for London and the surrounding area in particular. As such, the London ePrix is an event that locals should have been proud to call their own.

    Sadly, some have not seen this event for what it truly is – the chance to promote more sustainable transport and to reduce our carbon footprints. Without EVs, air pollution will worsen from already dangerously high levels, and action is needed as soon as possible.

    I, for one, hope that Formula E will return to the capital in the near future in a long-term home that will serve both the sport and the local people.

  • Darren says:

    Are we surprised? For example, London Heathrow has been around longer than most of the local residents, but they still use any excuse to moan about it. The key to the UK is house prices (greed) … if Heathrow or the ePrix increased the value of local properties by 50% …. they would be more than happy about it!

Leave a Reply to Paul Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *