Video: New Norwich speedway track would be “a force for good”
09:59 27 July 2012
Archant Norfolk Copyright
Plans for a new 480-seater stadium to bring speedway to Norwich for the first time in nearly half a century were made public yesterday.
‘It would be a dream’
Five-times world champion Ove Fundin – better known to Stars fans as the Flying Fox – captivated crowds at the Firs in the 1960s.
He was at the showground yesterday to give his blessing to the New Firs, and bringing the sport to a new generation.
He said: “It would please me ever so much if speedway did come back to Norwich. It would be a dream.
“When I was racing, Norwich had the largest and most loyal crowd in the whole of the UK, and I have only happy memories of my time there.
“The first time I raced here was probably in 1953, and it was a big track – in fact, too big for my liking, as I preferred them a bit smaller – but I knew it because it was like the ones in Sweden.
“I was very happy to be asked to be involved in this project. If they asked me to do anything, then I would because I would love to see the sport back here.”
The New Firs stadium would be built on an 11-hectare plot on the eastern corner of the Norfolk Showground on the former golf driving range site, and developers hope the regular race night could attract more than 1,500 fans at a time.
If the proposals, due to go before South Norfolk District Council next month, are given the go-ahead the track could see racing action as soon as the end of 2013.
Speedway ended in Norwich in 1964 with the closure of the Firs track at Hellesdon, where the Norwich Stars used to shine
Steve Ribbons, of New Firs Ltd, the company behind the proposal, said that the track would be “a force for good, economically and socially”.
He added: “We believe there is a want and a need for speedway in Norwich – if you put the racing on, they will come,” he said.
The new Norwich speedway team would enter at the sport’s lowest level, with a view to progressing higher, he said, though early estimates of attendance and interest were conservative “because it’s easier to go up than it is to go down”.
However, he did confirm that the Stars’ famed green-and-yellow racing jacket would be revived for racing once more – though possibly not the nickname.
King’s Lynn Speedway currently owns the copyright to the name and, while wishing the new venture luck, the club says it “does worry about the long-term sustainability of two speedway clubs within Norfolk.”
New Firs Ltd’s search had gone on for several years before the former golf driving range plot became available.
Louise Wilkinson, business development manager at the Norfolk Showground, said speedway’s family appeal was an “ideal” fit with the showground’s existing range of events.
The News Firs would see approximately 30 meetings a year, with around 15 races taking place between 7.30pm and 10pm, and only when there are no other major events at the showground.
As reported by the Norwich Evening News on Monday, concerns have already been raised at the increased traffic a speedway stadium would generate, and issues over noise from the bikes and public address system, and light spill from floodlights.
However, Mr Ribbons said Saturday night had been chosen as race night to avoid clashing with midweek rush-hour traffic, and assured residents that high-specification equipment would limit light and noise pollution.
The results of a public consultation will inform the final planning application, which will be submitted by Lanpro Services in August, and 2,000 leaflets are being distributed to nearby homes to ask for residents’ opinions.
Former Lord Mayor of Norwich Roy Blower, a regular at the old stadium before its closure, gave his support to the New Firs but conceded times had changed since the heyday of the Norwich Stars.
“We’re not going to get the attendances that there were then, but you can’t go backwards,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to reach a new audience.”
He said the latest proposal was superior to previous false dawns because of the quality of the site, and added: “If we don’t achieve it this time, it will never be done.”
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