Thursday evening saw Donington Park receive the planning permission it required to move ahead with its plans to play host to the British Grand Prix from 2010.

Crash.net was amongst a group of journalists invited to sit down for a round the table chat with Simon Gillett, the chief executive of the circuit, at the Autosport International show to discuss the news and to get up to date with how the work is moving along.

This in-depth, three part, question and answer reflects on what Gillett had to say...

Q:
You were always bullish you would get the planning, but there must have been some doubts over whether it would come through?

Simon Gillett:
I don't want to sound arrogant, but we were always confident we were going to get it. It was a great process working with North West Leicestershire Council and they have been very supportive from the off, and we all had a strong feeling it was going to happen. But, when everyone said yes, it was still a fantastic relief.

Q:
You said there was some holes to plug, have they now been plugged?

Simon Gillett:
We've plugged them all. The reason we delayed from November to now was to do that. We had to do the environmental impact assessment and there were a few things that we thought we were a bit weak on. We plugged those and that was proved by the unanimous vote from the council.

Q:
Were there any strings attached by the council in terms of traffic movement through the villages, the bridges, whatever?

Simon Gillett:
What we have agreed to do, and it was always part of it, is we have a thing called an event management plan and part of that is our traffic management plan. We are working with the police and the highways agency, and the local authorities, to work on our public transport grand prix.

Q:
There are a lot of question marks going forward and everyone is speculating about where the money is coming from. Can you clear that up for us and also tell us a bit about the September deadline that Bernie has imposed?

Simon Gillett:
Nothing about money at the moment. That, as I have always said, will be coming out at the end of quarter one and we will be letting people know about it, but you know what is coming; it's a debenture scheme and we are framing the final parts of that at the moment. It's on track and I am as confident on that as I was with the planning so you can draw your own conclusions from that if you wish. We are very confident on that. With regards to Bernie, we have two milestones. He comes along in September to make sure we have put some stuff in the ground and obviously if we haven't done that, he would be a bit concerned. Then we have the FIA track inspection in April. Both of those milestones were known of and are in the plans and we are on track.

Q:
There isn't a lot of corporate money swimming about at the moment so there must be some concern over that debenture scheme?

Simon Gillett:
Not at all.

Q:
As far as East Midlands airport is concerned, they are adamant that they won't close down for a week and you will have to work around them.

Simon Gillett:
We are in great negotiations at the moment. As I said on the stage, they are a commercial business and they have a choice of what they land on the day. If what I offer is more attractive and more commercially beneficial then they will make the decision. At the moment we haven't quantified exactly how beneficial that will be but there is open dialogue and they are very supportive of us.

Q:
Is it your hope to put together such a good deal that you would take over the airport for the weekend?

Simon Gillett:
We will take as much capacity as we can get from them. As I have said, at the end of the day, the airport having a standard flight schedule when there is a grand prix going on won't make it easy for us to get people in and out of the airport so there is an issue for them as well. There is an opportunity for us to work together and we both recognise that at the moment.

Q:
Running through the planning process, there have been rumours of opposition from some parties so what has been the most challenging part of it all from your side of things to get to this stage?

Simon Gillett:
Planning is always a challenge, but while there have been rumours of opposition, if you look at the council offices, the last meeting they held was for a local planning application in Castle Donington and they had seven objectors turn up. For a plan of our size, they had two objectors turned up; one local resident and one parish councillor. So, there are plenty of rumours and people like to peddle those negative rumours, but the reality is that the vast majority of people are incredibly supportive of what we are doing at Donington and that is why it went through with a unanimous decision.

Q:
In terms of the actual work at the circuit, what is the current state of play? Is everything ready to go?

Simon Gillett:
Well you can't drive the circuit at the moment as there is a 25 metre hole, eight metres deep between Coppice and McLeans where we have started work on the tunnel so we are already underway with our work on a three quarters of a million pound tunnel. That will be completed by 20th February when we will re-open the track and that is the tunnel that will give us access to the middle of the circuit so we can continue with the building process.

Q:
How will the rest of the building process affect the track?

Simon Gillett:
The reason for the tunnel is so that it won't. The majority of the construction work, the new loop, the new paddock, is on the infield so what we had to do is make sure we had unobstructed access to the infield so we can get into the circuit to work with the track running round the outside of it. There is no disruption to the calendar at all and the only disruption is that infield viewing will be restricted this year.

Q:
Will that affect capacity for fans at all?

Simon Gillett:
We have had our planning capacity done for this plan, and taking the infield out completely, the capacity comes down to 134,500 people - so we aren't struggling! I'm looking forward to the day when we get that many people coming to a grand prix.

Q:
What kind of grandstand capacity do you have for phase one?

Simon Gillett:
The phase one application gives us grandstand capacity for 70,000 people.

Q:
Will that be in place for the first grand prix?

Simon Gillett:
The phase one application that has gone through shows that there is temporary grandstand going up and the phase two application that we will go for mid-year will see a lot of that made permanent. You don't need 70,000 permanent seats but the majority of those, around 30,000 on the main straight, will be made permanent in the phase two application.

With thanks to the other journalists present for questions asked during the session.

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