One aspect of the plans involves the demolition of the Queen Mother Stand (QMS), which sits immediately next to the main grandstand. There is a curious quirk in the operating rules of Cheltenham, which allows box holders in the Queen Mother Stand to bring in their own food and drink. However, it isn’t the horror of having to queue for fish and chips or a burger with the rest of us that’s bothering them, nor even that a day at the races will cost more because they’ll have to buy their own food.
Many of the people using the QMS are long standing members who feel that the major financial contributions they made when Cheltenham was an unprofitable track seem to count for nothing if they stand in the way of higher profit and hospitality visitors.
One of the members said, “ I understand the racecourse wants to make money, but going back 30 and 40 years many of the families kept Cheltenham alive. They were the nucleus of the racing, and we don’t want the stand demolished to make way for a new grandstand aimed at corporate clients.”
The group are looking into the practicalities of applying for Listed building status for the stand, something that has already been done with the county stands at York and Aintree. They are not averse to a new structure around it, and to do that could make the QMS look rather less like an incomplete 1960s comprehensive school. According to the group, this would mean “Cheltenham could still maintain the old families who have supported the racing for a long time and play a part in the character of the course today, while also increasing the number of corporate customers.”
Cheltenham was playing a straight bat yesterday, saying nothing beyond how much it valued that group of customers, but that we would all have to wait and see what was in the plans.
I wasn’t able to publish this yesterday, but following the presentation to the Council, Simon Balzagette, chief executive of The Jockey Club said that English Heritage had told him that the QMS, built in the 1920s “doesn’t meet any requirements” for listed building status.
The group of box holders in the stand, just 55 in all are sometimes referred to as the A&R group. They were not convinced by this, and appear determined to press ahead with their case. But the Cheltenham executive believed the plans afforded the strong possibility of an amicable solution. Ian Renton, South West regional director for Jockey Club Racecourses said, “We are communicating with all our A&R box holders and a number of them have already expressed considerable interest in being involved. I’m fairly confident we will be able to provide most of the facilities that meet their needs.”