Top Gear’s iconic test track to become a housing estate

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The famous Top Gear test track’s days are numbered, after the local council approved a plan to build 1800 new homes at the site.

Waverley Borough Council approved a plan on Wednesday which will see Dunsfold Aerodrome, the home of the famous TV test track, repurposed into a business park. The Aerodrome currently homes 100 businesses which employ 800 people, as well as being the site of the famous Top Gear track.

Part of the new development must provide affordable housing, with Jim McAllister, the Dunsfold Park projet chief exeutive saying it’ll be an area for a community to flourish.

“The development of Dunsfold Aerodrome will provide homes for young families currently priced out of the area, direct development away from green fields, create new jobs and deliver a range of new community facilities and infrastructure improvements.”

Since 2005, plans have been on the table for the entire 600-acre site to be levelled and transformed into a 2,600 home master planned community. The site owners at the time, the Rutland Group, envisaged an eco-village set within a 350-acre country parkland which would be accessible by the public. Looking at the map below, you can see how part of the main runway will be preserved as a parking space, with an ornamental canal running along its length. A central Market Square forms the heart of the village and contains various community facilities, including a primary school. Homes are arranged around a network of streets, courtyards and parking barns – which are hidden under grass roofs in an effort to hide cars and keep them out of the village center.

This is what Dunsfold Park looks like today..

…and this is the housing estate that will replace it.

While reactions to the master plan were apparently “widely admired”, the project was initially put on hold due to the local Appeal Inspector at the borough council considering the application to be “premature” – due to the location requiring additional transport infrastructure in order to handle the increase in population. In September 2008, the council unanimously rejected an application. Rutland appealed against the decision, with a lengthy public inquiry following in March 2009, before being rejected in September that year.

Fast forward to earlier this year – the Rutland Group strikes a deal with a Trinity College and sells Dunsfold Park for over £50,000,000. As part of the deal, the Rutland Group entered into a long-term partnership with the college in what it said would “ensure the future of the site”. In other words, ensure the housing project goes ahead as soon as development approval can be obtained. In the meantime, they’re looking at extending the business park or expanding the airfield business in order to raise profits.

Martin Bamford, managing director of financial planners Informed Choices, said the deal should mean Rutland stayed as manager of the park, with the college seeking to maximise its revenues from new developments and events. Maximise revenues? You can’t get any bigger than developing and selling two-thousand six-hundred homes. Dunsfold Park represents an opportunity to make an absolute goldmine of money, something Trinity and Rutland both realise.

Why losing the Top Gear test track is a big deal

Located at Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey, the Top Gear test track was originally designed by Lotus Cars to be used primarily as a testing facility for the company’s Formula 1 racing program. But it wasn’t until the reinvented Top Gear launched in 2002 that it was truly thrust into the spotlight.

Dunsfold Aerodrome was formerly a Royal Canadian Air Force airbase constructed during the Second World War and was later used by British Aerospace as a manufacturing and test facility. It is on these same runways and taxiways that the track was built; marked out using painted lines and simple structures such as cones and tyre stacks.

Lotus designed the 1.75 mile track to put cars through a varying range of conditions, from provoking understeer, oversteer, to testing brake balance and high speed stability. The track is a true equaliser of cars and has become arguably the most famous test track in the world, thanks to Top Gear’s success over the past 14 years.

Reaching almost Nurburgring levels of fame, the Dunsfold Park test track has also featured in blockbuster video game titles such as the Forza and Gran Turismo racing franchises – and has even been used as a film location for various movies. The modified Boeing 747-200 located at Dunsfold was used in the James Bond film Casino Royale and for the flight scenes in Come Fly with Me. The closing sequences of the film Red 2 were also shot at Dunsfold, with parts of the test track seen during the closing car chase of the film.

But with the downfall of Top Gear and the departure of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May from the programme, perhaps it is fitting then that the track also be consigned to history. Jeremy’s power tests are being conducted elsewhere, and Top Gear’s Power Lap Board and Star in a Rallycross Car lap boards will soon become obsolete. It has the potential to change the dynamic of the newly reinvented show completely (again).

But one day we’ll all look back on just how good Top Gear really was in its prime – and it’ll be a sad day when the bulldozers arrive at Dunsfold Park.

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