Landowners give assurance that horse racing will continue at Down Royal

Crowds enjoying this year's May Day Meeting at Down Royal racecourse.' 'Pic by Kelvin Boyes, Press Eye
Crowds enjoying this year's May Day Meeting at Down Royal racecourse.' 'Pic by Kelvin Boyes, Press Eye

The owners of Down Royal racecourse have given an assurance that the venue will continue to be used for horse racing when they take over the management of the property.

The Dublin-based Merrion Group was responding to concerns about the future of racing at the Maze site amid a row over the management of the facility and speculation that the land could be earmarked for housing development.

The Merrion Group recently signalled its intention to remove the current Down Royal management team and take over the running of the racecourse, which it has owned since 2006.

That move has led to objections from the Down Royal Corporation of Horse Breeders – the long-time managers of the site.

The dispute between the owners and current management team is due before a judge-led land tribunal later this year.

Responding to concerns that the row might impact the award-winning venue’s future race programmes, and speculation that the land could be used for new housing, representatives of the Merrion Group met with Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson this week to update him on their plans for the site.

A spokesman for the Merrion Group said: “We are very conscious of the long tradition of horse racing at Down Royal and of the justifiable affection with which the venue is held throughout Northern Ireland and beyond.

“It is our intention and ambition that horse racing will continue on the site and in fact that the whole race day experience is enhanced.

“We have never looked at the possibility of using the Down Royal site for anything other than horse racing and other complementary activities.”

Mr Donaldson said he was reassured to hear the Merrion Group’s proposals to retain racing at Down Royal, and that there are no plans for housing development at the site.

“I have supported the provision of horse racing at Down Royal since I first became an MP and I appreciate the role played by the racecourse in helping to promote Lisburn as a leisure and tourist destination,” the DUP man said.

“The Lands Tribunal will now adjudicate on whether the incumbent management team remain in place or whether the Merrion Group will take over the management of the site.

“My overriding concern is that whatever the outcome the local community around Down Royal is not negatively impacted, and that horse racing continues. I accept there are no plans to abandon racing or to build houses on the site and I am reassured by that.

“I will continue to work with all parties to promote Down Royal and to ensure that we maximise our tourist potential here in Lisburn,” Mr Donaldson added.