June 2020

Folkestone: The Slow, Agonising Death of a Racecourse

Folkestone Racecourse, in the village of Westenhanger, about eight miles west of Folkestone town centre, closed on Tuesday, December 18, 2012, just three days after Hereford Racecourse – also operated by Arena Racing Company (ARC) – suffered the same fate. Notwithstanding the debacle of Great Leighs Racecourse, which had its licence revoked less than a year after opening, in 2009, they were the first racecourses to close since Stockton Racecourse, a.k.a. Teesside Park, in 1981.

At the time, the closure of Hereford was billed as ‘permanent’ and that of Folkestone ‘temporary’, subject to negotiations with Folkestone and Hythe District Council, formerly Shepway District Council, regarding planning permission for houses which would, a spokesman for ARC said, fund the redevelopment of the track and facilities. However, four years after closing its doors, supposedly for the last time, Hereford fully reopened, much to the delight of local trainers and permit holders.

Folkestone, though, remains closed; a dilapidated, unkempt shadow of its former self. A draft plan for 820 houses, submitted to the planning inspectorate in 2013, was withdrawn after initial public hearings, leading Shepway District Council to abandon any provisions for the racecourse. That was, of course, until the Council purchased nearby Otterpool Manor Farm in nearby Sellinge, for a reported £5.2 million, and subsequently announced plans for ‘Otterpool Park’, a ‘garden town’ covering 700 hectares, including the land occupied by Folkestone Racecourse, with up to 12,000 new houses.

That’s life, you might say, with some justification. After all, Teesside Park is now a shopping centre. What is harder to swallow, though, is the fact that Otterpool Manor Farm was bought as designated agricultural land and Shepway District Council said, in as many words, that it would ‘not be developed’. Nevertheless, the Council has already compulsory purchased hundreds of acres of arable land to make way for a secondary school, so what was the only racecourse in Kent looks gone forever.