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APRIL 16, 2001

Prudential to build on Brooklands

THE world's first ever purpose-built motor racing circuit, Brooklands, is under threat from development as it struggles to overcome the ill effects of the flooding that gripped Britain in late 2000.

The insurance and investment giant Prudential Insurance bought land on the Brooklands site adjacent to the old paddock buildings early in the New Year and now intend to revive a planning proposal that predates the museum's tenancy.

Should the plan be successful, Prudential's developers Helical Bar will construct a $300 million complex of 5 office blocks and the necessary parking and infrastructure, decimating what is left open to the public of the grand old track.

Brooklands opened in 1907, a vast 2.7-mile banked oval which was the home of Britain's pioneering motor sport and aviation industries until the outbreak of World War 2. Although the circuit has not held a meeting since 1939 it remains largely intact despite extensive development on the site since the closure of the airfield some 30 years ago.

Said Brooklands Museum director, Michael Phillips: "We are not against the development. But we are very worried about these plans to build office blocks in a flood plain, in the Brooklands Conservation Area, overlooking our listed and historic buildings."

The proposed office blocks would dominate the historic motoring village, including double-decked car park on the old Campbell Road Circuit. The Brooklands Museum is housed in the restored Clubhouse and has systematically renovated many of the old buildings including the original press office, fuelling station, pits and workshops - including Sir Malcolm Campbell's famous Bugatti garage.

As well as many pre-war cars the 115,000 annual visitors are able to see landmarks from Brooklands' aviation history and walk the famous Members Banking. The remainder of the track, such as the Railway Straight, Campbell Road Circuit and Byfleet Banking also remain - albeit beyond the perimeter of the museum's 30-acre site leased from current owners, tobacco giant Gallahers.

Although the museum suffered $4 million-worth of damage when in was swamped in two feet of floodwater this winter it remains open for business. Meanwhile, on 21 March, the local council of Elmbridge voted 8 to 2 to allow the Prudential Assurance application on the grounds that a potential 3,000 jobs will be created.

Such claims, and the development at Brooklands are hoped by Prudential chairman Jonathan Bloomer as a trump card in his bid to merge the British financial firm with American General, as their merger announcement saw Prudential's share price nosedive to 778p on the London stock exchange. The authorities are still finalizing their plans and, in the meantime, the Brooklands Society is seeking to drum up enough protest from the motor sport community to force the government to act. Anyone seeking to support its campaign should visit .