If you’ve ever had any involvement in the UK’s drifting scene, you’re probably familiar with Lydden Hill. Host to numerous drift practice days and championships in previous years, the circuit has been a mainstay on the UK drifting calendar for a while now. On December 18th the track announced that they’d be removing drifting from their 2016 calendar, with the exception of British Drift Championship and King of Europe events. I wanted to find out not only why this had happened but what could be done to prevent the loss of grassroots drifting at other venues, so I decided to take a further look into how this situation came about.
As you can imagine, there was a wide array of responses to Lydden Hill’s drift day (or rather lack thereof) announcement across social media. I won’t embarrass anyone by posting screenshots, as statements ranged from the agreeable “it was a long time coming” to the slightly more moronic “LET’S DO BURNOUTS OUTSIDE THE HOUSES OF LOCAL RESIDENTS” (I corrected the spelling and grammar on that one accordingly). So where does the problem lie and, more importantly, is there a potential solution?
It’s interesting to see that top-level competition drifting has remained at the venue, especially in face of the new 100db static noise level limit (I can’t see too many competition drift cars passing that particularly easily). I also struggled to believe that the likes of Rallycross cars would manage to meet this noise limit either, which led me to wonder whether drifting had been axed to appease the locals who have continually disputed the circuit’s actions in recent years.
As part of this development report published by Lydden Hill (put together as a result of the number of third party objections to their wishes for additional race weekends) I found a few interesting comments from local residents:
“Drifting should not be allowed”
“Recently, the noise has become more intrusive, especially from events such as drifting and specialist shows like the BHP show”
“The Circuit should concentrate on real motorsports, not drifting or BHP events”
While these statements do initially sound quite ignorant and typical of those not well-versed with drifting, I carried on reading. I came across this application (if the link doesn’t work, click here and then click on the document marked “LYDDEN DRAFT PLANNING STATEMENT FINAL”) submitted to Dover Council by Lydden Hill to put forward plans to replace various buildings at the venue, along with the construction of some new ones and some fresh ideas regarding circuit use (corporate and track days, driver training etc.). This paragraph in particular stood out:
“In view of this, the Applicant is offering to accept a planning condition on any grant of consent for this development which restricts the number of drifting days to 8 per calendar year. This is less than half of the approximately 15 drifting days currently held at the Circuit each calendar year and is recognition of the nosier nature of these events and the impact felt by some local residents. With no limits currently in place, this offers an opportunity for the Council to gain additional control over these types of events.”
Translation: grant us planning permission and we’ll reduce the amount of drifting held at Lydden Hill.
In addition to that, did the venue even have permission to run drift events in the first place? It hadn’t even crossed my mind that a circuit would require permission from the local authorities with regards different uses of a track but it appears this is the case, much to the annoyance of some of the local residents who have had no qualms with voicing their objections (you can view all documents related to the application here):
In her objection letter, Ms P James states “the circuit currently does not have planning permission to run drifting events, although it has been doing so for four years. The circuit itself recognises that it does not have necessary planning permission”.
Moving away from planning permission and, in another letter, Mrs D Laughland (fantastic surname, by the way) quips “on a previous weekend when there was drift racing I got up from bed convinced we had a house fire”, which doesn’t sound particularly ideal although, if true, I can understand why she might not be so amicable towards drifting.
From reading through a large number of letters of objection, the vast majority focus upon drifting as one of their major reasons for wishing to prevent Lydden Hill’s development plans. Throughout the circuit’s planning application, the reduction in drift days is frequently mentioned and the sport almost begins to feel like a scapegoat, pushed into the limelight so the venue can pursue other ventures.
After a bit of Googling l later stumbled across the “Wootton Environment Protection Group” Facebook page (boasting an almighty 4 Likes). I noticed that on the 26th November, the page referenced a Noise Abatement appeal taking place at Dover Magistrates Court on December 7th-11th, with this epic showdown pitting Dover District Council against Lydden Hill Race Circuit.
However, come December 3rd and the same group announced that the noise abatement appeal had been settled out of court. Fifteen days later, Lydden Hill announced the removal of drift days (with the exception of the BDC and King of Europe) along with a new 100db static noise limit. Was grassroots drifting sacrificed in order to avoid a trip to court? Was the noise limit drastically reduced from the previous 108db limit as a short term solution to quell the protests? We’ll never know for sure I guess.
There is no doubting that drifters driving to and from events on local roads will have given local residents something else to moan about. I can’t imagine they appreciate the sound of enthusiastic drivers making their way along the back lanes in the early hours of the morning – I’d be quite pissed off too if my weekend lie-in was cut short by a rabble of straight pipe-equipped E36s barreling past, pausing only for the occasional pre-drift day burnout (it happens and we all know it).
As much as I love a good laugh in my drift car when driving to and from events with mates, it’s probably time we were all on our best behaviour so as not to piss off the already agitated residents looking for excuses to get your local track shut down. While there’s nothing we can do about venues pursuing permission for expansion and focusing their attention on other uses for their track(s), it’d probably help if we, the drifters, did our best to stop fueling the fire of complaints.
So where does this leave us? Well for starters, let’s hope other circuits that welcome drifting have got their council permissions in order. While we often debate whether drifting should be classified as a recognised motorsport or not, it seems this lack of clarification is the perfect leverage for pissed off residents to argue their case with the relevant councils as to whether or not their local track is even allowed to host drifting activities at all.
If you’re not interested in drifting competitively and want to drift more frequently than at the one or two big one-off open events held during the season then the number of regular, affordable drift days for you seems to be depleting. Venues such as Driftland, Teesside, Buxton, Santa Pod, Birmingham Wheels and Norfolk Arena still look set to host regular events, although only two of these are what could be considered proper circuits.
Three Sisters near Manchester recently started running public drift days that are priced exceptionally well considering the quality of the track and the venue as a whole. Drifting has been well-received by the organisers and spectators alike and looks to have a healthy future at the circuit in 2016 and I’ll be trying to attend as many of their practice days as possible.
If you live in the South of England however, things are definitely looking a little bleak. With a minimum of a three or four hour drive now required for many Southerners to drift at a proper circuit, I completely understand why drifters from this neck of the woods have begun questioning whether to continue pursuing the sport they love or moving on to pastures new.
If you want to drift competitively in 2016 then there’s a multitude of different series to choose from with varying rules and regulations. But if all you want is some good, cheap fun on a circuit at the weekend without getting too serious, there isn’t a lot on offer. My only hope is that more go-kart venues (and there are plenty of them across the UK) follow Three Sisters’ lead and give drifting a go. And when they do, let’s not be total dickheads and try to preserve at least one location for safe, legal and fun drifting.