Ambitious race circuit lying empty one year after striking major World Superbike deal

TWELVE months ago, amid much fanfare, the under-construction Lake Torrent racetrack was announced as a host venue for a round of the World Superbike Championship for three years, starting in 2019.

However, a year on, the dreams lie in tatters as planning wrangles brought a dead halt to construction of the new track.

And today, the sprawling 57 acre site, formerly the site of the old clay pits, lies empty, with no work being carried out to turn the dreams of the 3.6km, 12 turn international race track into a reality.

The highly ambitious plans not only included a world class racetrack but also the creation of various engineering workshops, as well as a hotel, various restaurants. The possible relocation of the Craic Theatre to the site had also been mooted.

Today, though, the gates at the site are simply locked, with not a person to be seen, as time ticks by.

Back in the Autumn, the World Superbike Championship, seeking but not receiving assurances surrounding the viability of the round to be held at Lake Torrent, had to pull the plug on the scheduled 2019 race.

With little progress having taken place at the site since then, it looks highly unlikely the proposed 2020 edition of the race will happen either.

The company behind the plans, Manna Developments, went into receivership late last year.

Despite that, the company claimed that funding remains in place to deliver the track and their “focus remains on the delivery of Lake Torrent”.

Members of Mid-Ulster Council had expressed their disappointment that the race track plans had hit the skids, and stated their hope the plans could be resurrected.

However, there has been no progress in the intervening three months, and no word has come from the camp since before Christmas.

A significant factor in the problems which befell the site was the planning requirements to carry out extensive borehole searches throughout the plot, with it claimed this was an unnecessary and overly rigorous condition placed upon the developers.

That was the view of MP for the area, Sinn Fein’s Francie Molloy, who has been a champion of the project from the outset.

Speaking last year after Manna Developments entered receivership, Mr Molloy said: “Everyone knows the old mineshafts were dug out about 40 years ago but because it’s on a map they are using from 1921, they are assuming they are exposed and surveys are to be done of all the land.

“This is a box ticking exercise and unfortunately it has put the project at risk.

“I hold the plannng authorities totally accountable for the jeopardising of this site. Instead of helping the development, they are making it impossible. It’s disappointing for me as I have been trying to bring a big development to Mid-Ulster and you find no good will.”

Despite his frustrations over the delay, Mr Molloy remains optimistic something may yet come out of the project.

“There’s nothing happening with regards the track at the minute,” he told the Courier. “The planning decision means nothing can happen.

“They are currently trying to review it through the architects and see if they can work a solution out.

“I definitely hope it will come to fruition, it’s a very important one for Coalisland and the whole Mid-Ulster area.”

All concerned parties and interested onlookers shared the view the plans, which boasted projections of 30,000 motorcycling fans attending race weekends, would have brought a major boon to the area.

However, many, while hopeful the Lake Torrent scheme would deliver on its promise, had been sceptical of the plans and, so far, have yet to see many of their misgivings disproved.

Kenny Loughrin, a director and long-time member of the Cookstown & District Motorcycle Club which promotes the annual Cookstown ‘100’ races, was one such observer.

Speaking to the Courier, he said: “As far as I was concerned, from the very outset I had reservations about the whole thing. I thought it would have been a miracle if it had come to pass.

“It would have been lovely to see a track of that calibre but as far as the financial package and the infrastructure requirements were concerned, it was unbelievable it was going to happen. I don’t want to be too negative but you can’t think much else becaus of what’s happening. It’s unfortunate. I don’t know where it’s going, but it’s going nowhere at the minute.”

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