The proposed £370m Circuit of Wales project should be seen as far more than just a racetrack but a destination venue that will promote Wales globally and boost the economy, said its chief executive Martin Whitaker.
Addressing a meeting of Cardiff Breakfast Club, Mr Whitaker said the project, subject to Welsh Government support, was “ready to go” with the circuit itself scheduled for completion in time to host the UK round of motorcycling’s MotoGP – as part of a 10 year agreement – in September 2018.
The company behind the project, Heads of Valleys Development Company, is now waiting on whether the new Welsh Government will support a revised financial plan for the circuit earmarked for more than 800 acres of former common land in Blaenau Gwent.
Before the election the then Business Minister Edwina Hart said “Joe public would have thought she had gone bloody mad,” if you she had agreed to a 100% underwriting of Aviva Investors’ sole financing for the project.
The new plan is understood to require only a 50% underwriting from the Welsh Government, but also an element of further underwriting from the local authorities area that will directly benefit most from the project in Blaenau Gwent and Monmouthsire councils.
However, combined the underwriting is below 80% – anything over is seen as a challenge in terms of not breaching EU state aid rules.
Mr Whitaker said: “After a few dodgy moments over the last few months we are very confident of getting support from the government. Our negotiations with officials are pretty close to being completed.
“The election didn’t help, but the fact they engaged during the process is very encouraging.
“The funds [Aviva] were always in place and are not a concern for us. We are pretty ready to go and the quicker we can get on with it the better for the region and Wales.”
Mr Whitaker said the track, designed by Populous, would be the most technologically advanced circuit of its kind in the world, with a rise and and fall of 50 metres.
He added: “However, this is not just a circuit but very much a destination.”
He confirmed the circuit was in discussions with a number of extreme sport organisations looking to hold events at the circuit.
The company is also in discussions to bring the world drone championships to Wales, It is also in talks with Formula 1 driver Jenson Button with a view to bringing his charity triathlon to the venue.
Mr Whitaker, a former general manager of the Bahrain International Circuit said: “We want to also be an extreme sport and recreational site. Camping is also very attractive to us. We will have the one of the largest camp site not just in Wales but in the UK. And this will not just be attractive to spectators on racing weekends, but all year round. It is a massive opportunity.”
Mr Whitaker said that major 4×4 car manufacturers were very interested in using the circuit as a testing facility and there was also huge potential for Formula 1 racing teams to put vehicles through their paces before the start of the Formula 1 season.
He said the track would also benefit from under ground ‘warming technology’ which meant it could be used early mornings and in winter by motor racing teams.
“We are hoping that Formula 1 teams will take up the opportunity of testing on the circuit with what is a very clear differentiator,” said Mr Whitaker
Longer-term the project has plans for a one million sq ft automotive and technology focused business park. There will also be hotel and leisure facilities.
He said the project, which has already received £9m funding from the Welsh Government, would create 1,400 jobs during its construction and over the long-term could support up to 6,000 jobs.
Mr Whitaker added: “This area is a part of Wales that has suffered greatly over the years, but this project provides the community with huge opportunities not least in jobs, but in training and the like.”
Cardiff Breakfast Club is sponsored by Blake Morgan, Stills, Lloyds Banking Group and the Western Mail.
Credit: Sion Barry, Mail Online