Following months of what he calls 'little trials and tribulations', Simon Gillett's Donington Ventures Leisure Ltd (DVLL) company has finally been granted a little breathing space – temporarily at least – with a month's extension of its deadline to sign paperwork crucial to the future of the British Grand Prix.
A key meeting of North West Leicestershire District Council's planning committee yesterday (Tuesday) resolved that DVLL is to be allowed until 30 June to convince planners that certain criteria – including the provision of a transport management plan for a circuit notoriously poor in terms of access – will be satisfied, according to a 'Section 106' agreement that was part-and-parcel of the initial planning permission approval.
Should those conditions not be met, then the planning permission for the ambitious £100 million redevelopment programme required to bring the venue up to Formula 1 standard – granted back in January – will be rescinded, and the blue riband
event on the UK motorsport calendar will likely be no more.
“We are 110 per cent committed to making this happen and 100 per cent confident that it will,” Gillett told BBC Sport
. “We have our little trials and tribulations, but we are still confident the grand prix is coming to Donington next year. We know what is going on behind-the-scenes, and there is a lot going on in the background that gives us confidence.”
Another significant hurdle that the embattled Gillett must overcome, however, is that of settling his financial dispute with circuit owner Tom Wheatcroft, the man who awarded him a 150-year lease on the Derbyshire track two years ago but who is now suing DVLL for a reputed £2.47 million in unpaid rent and demanding the return of the lease. The case is due to be heard at Derby County Court on 8 June.
“We will be in a position to be able to sort that out very soon,” Gillett stressed. “We are in in-depth meetings to button down the finances, and you should see a resolution on this situation soon.”
The track upgrades have been repeatedly stymied by other setbacks including Gillett's business partner Lee Gill departing the fray late last year, the bank financing the project pulling out, a delay in planning permission and the circuit's national racing licence being revoked on safety grounds – leading to the embarrassing and expensive cancellation or postponement of a number of meetings. The debenture scheme by which Gillett had hoped to raise funding – offering corporate seats for sale at a cost of £5,000, and underwritten by investment bank Goldman Sachs – is also believed to have been withdrawn.
The DVLL chief executive has acknowledged that the global credit crunch has stunted progress somewhat, leaving the ten-year deal to host the race – granted by F1 supremo and commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone last summer – looking tenuous at best. Gillett's self-imposed deadline for the work to be completed is 1 April, 2010 – but he is adamant the job will be done and that the future of one of the oldest grands prix on the sport's calendar will be assured.
“We have a nine-month construction programme and that has never changed,” he underlined. “We have always known we could construct everything we have to in nine months, and we have the construction in-hand. We need to be in a position to roll everything out by July 2009, but we are not panicking yet.