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Motor racing in Wales got a shot in the arm on Thursday with the announcement that international construction firm FCC has been appointed to build a £250m 3.5 mile circuit in Ebbw Vale (above). To date, Cardiff has been the only other site used for international motor sport through hosting the British round of the World Rally Championship. The new track is being designed to host international series such as MotoGP, World Superbikes and World Touring Cars which would quite literally put Wales on motorsport's map. If it all sounds a bit familiar there is good reason for this.
In 2004 motorsport entrepreneur Simon Gillett was behind a plan to transform 400 acres of disused mining land in Wales into a motorsport complex complete with a 60-room hotel and conference centre. This may ring more than a few bells. Gillett is of course the man who led a failed bid to host the British Grand Prix at Donington from 2010 which left the circuit in a state of disrepair. The plans for Ebbw Vale sound eerily similar and involve an 830-acre site which will be used for industrial, commercial and leisure developments, as well as "advanced engineering, education, safety in motor sports and green transport-related businesses."
Gillett was managing director and joint-owner of Innovate Motorsport a company which hoped to raise £20m to fund the project. However, its planning permission application was turned down for noise reasons and the impact on a local world heritage site. An investigation by Pitpass' business editor Christian Sylt in 2009 revealed the mess that it left behind.
Innovate was established in January 2004 and the business was registered at Gillett's home address. Company documents show that he was Innovate's sole owner until February 2004 when off-road motorcycle race promoter Gareth Hockey took a 50% stake. In the same month Gillett and Hockey were joined on Innovate's board by Nicky Grist, former co-driver to late rally champion Colin McRae. When Innovate failed to get planning permission for the site in Wales its attention turned elsewhere and Grist resigned after only eight months on the board.
Innovate's creditors forced the company into liquidation in August 2005 and the winding-up documents clearly state the reason for its demise: "the Company cannot, by reason of its liabilities, continue its business." It owed a total of £220,000 but had only £16,000 of assets leaving a deficit of £204,000. Legal firm Clarke Willmott was left out of pocket more than any other creditor with publishing firm Haymarket and motorsport clothing company Sparco also due money from Innovate.
After Innovate failed to get planning permission, Gillett was quoted in the South Wales Argus newspaper saying "we decided to give up on Wales, got offered four sites in the Midlands, and within five months the deal was done. We're moving in October with £30 million of investment." However things turned out very differently. Just over a year later Innovate went bust with a £200,000 deficit in the amount that it owed to its creditors. Hopefully the plans for Ebbw Vale will fare a bit better than this.
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