What does the future hold for Abbey Stadium?

Abbey Stadium will not see speedway races again
Abbey Stadium will not see speedway races again

Speedway in Swindon has ended – possibly for ever.

The Speedway Robins will not be operating at Abbey Stadium for the 2023 season and there is no prospect of a return to the stadium in Blunsdon St Andrew.

A statement on BritishSpeedway.co.uk said: “It is with great sadness that the Directors of Swindon Speedway and Stadia UK are announcing permanent closure of Speedway Racing at the Abbey Stadium.

"We together made extensive investigations with a view of keeping Speedway racing at the Abbey Stadium. These discussions have involved the current management and promotion of the club and has extended to a number of possible investors.

"The club has concluded that with the prevailing financial climate, the uncertainty over the long-term future of greyhound racing and the inability to operate additional events, Speedway racing cannot achieve anything like a break-even financial position, short or long term.

"Sadly, this means that Swindon Speedway will not be able to compete in the coming 2023 season.”

Club Chairman Terry Russell said: “I am disappointed that my 17-year involvement with the club has ended. However, I am very excited about the new venture and bringing a new facility built especially for motorsports.”

It is significant that the statement alluded to uncertainty over the future of greyhound racing at the stadium.

Dog racing makes much more money for the owners than speedway, which operates for 20 nights a year, but there has been a long-standing campaign to try and get the greyhound racing banned from Abbey Stadium.

Currently, the site is in the middle of an extensive rebuild- which should see the layout of the stadium reversed with a new grandstand and facilities.

Except work has come to a halt – the component parts of the new stand are on site but in the car park and have been there for weeks.

The progress with the new stadium is critical to its future- as the final phase of 179 houses to be built on land next door cannot start until the stadium is completed.

And this has led North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson to say if Gaming international cannot get the new stadium built, it should sell it to a company that can.

Mr Tomlinson said: “The news is extremely worrying as yet another season goes by without the Robins being able to compete.

“With the threat of the loss of greyhound racing these are very worrying times.”

But Mr Tomlinson sought to reassure those concerns about the housing development proceeding without the stadium being rebuilt.

He said: “Swindon Borough Council has rightly said there will be no relaxation of the planning conditions to prevent the final phase of houses progressing until the stadium works are completed.

“Therefore, if Gaming International is struggling to complete the works that seem to be stalled, it should seek to sell the stadium to a to a company that can complete it. We are all committed to keeping speedway.”

The LDR has contacted Gaming International to put Mr Tomlinson’s points to the company but has not received a response.

Swindon Borough Council has confirmed that the agreement between it and the company, that the last tranche of housing could not go ahead until the stadium is completed is still in place.

Council leader David Renard said: “We are deeply saddened to hear that Swindon Robins speedway team will be unable to compete in the 2023 season.

"Speedway has been an integral part of the Swindon sports scene for so long at the Abbey Stadium, this is the end of an era.

"We wish them every success with their plans to find a new home in the area that is financially viable and will support them with their endeavours if there is the possibility to do so.

“In planning terms, we have remained steadfast in supporting the ongoing use of the stadium and planning conditions are in place for an adjacent housing development which require a number of actions from the stadium owners including acoustic barriers, a stadium building and a range of other conditions before that can go ahead. There are no applications for any alternative use of the stadium site.”

Leader of the Labour group of councillors Jim Robbins said: “This is a sad day for Swindon which has had a long and proud tradition of being a speedway town and had hosted international matches. This news is so shattering for the town and share in the loss for fans.

"We want to know what happens to the borough council’s promise about the stadium being completed ahead of any more housing, as Justin Tomlinson repeatedly said.”

Rumours of the imminent closure cessation of greyhound racing continue to circulate - with one trainer telling The Swindon Advertiser that the last meeting is scheduled for 22 December. Others have said 26 December.

Previously Gaming International said: “We have no idea from where this rumour has emanated or why, but it is without foundation.”

Stadiums in Poole and Reading owned by Gaming International since 2008 have also closed.