Fears for the future of Harborough's Showground as landowners begin confidential talks

Leading councillor says that 'alarms bells are ringing' and a meeting must be held soon to find out what is going on

Friday, 30th October 2020, 1:04 pm
Updated Friday, 30th October 2020, 1:08 pm
Busy scenes at the County Show in 2018, held at the Showground. Photo by Andrew Carpenter.

A Harborough councillor fears for the entire future of the high-profile “goldmine” Showground on the edge of Market Harborough.

Cllr Phil Knowles, who leads the Liberal Democrat opposition on Harborough council, said the 75-acre site on Gallow Field Road has been plunged into serious doubt.

The veteran councillor is now calling for “urgent action” to secure the “dazzling jewel in Harborough’s crown” to the north of Market Harborough for at least the next 10 years.

Cllr Knowles spoke out as council leader Cllr Phil King said he is striving to set up an urgent meeting with the landowner and Leicestershire Agricultural Society, which has been using and running the Showground.

The bombshell issue has suddenly blown up as William Davis Homes and Hallam Land Management, which jointly own the prime chunk of land, admitted they are now holding “confidential” talks with Leicestershire Agricultural Society about the site’s future.

Cllr Knowles told the Harborough Mail: “I am very worried about the whole future of our cherished Showground.

“Let’s not play this down for a single second.

“The Showground is a dazzling jewel in the crown of the whole of Harborough – it’s a genuine goldmine.

“It is absolutely critical that we set up a long-term agreement to tie down its future for the good of the entire district for at least the next 10 years.”

The long-serving Lib Dem stalwart declared: “It will be a tragedy if we lost the Showground.

“It’s an enormous asset to both Market Harborough as well as the rest of our district.

“We cannot afford to lose it – full stop.

“The Showground will be right at the heart of our mission as a council to bounce back next year from this devastating Covid-19 pandemic.”

Cllr Knowles said he believed that the top-notch events location – which boasts access to 15 acres of additional car parking – “would be deeded to Harborough council in perpetuity”.

“In 2018 my colleague Cllr Sarah Hill was advised by the district council’s legal department that it was believed that a 10-year lease had been agreed between the landowner and the agricultural society.

“But that now does not appear to be the case.

“A five-year agreement the society thought was on the table was never signed,” he revealed.

“The Showground has been helping to put Harborough bang on the map for the last few years.

“It brings in thousands of people from all over the area to the annual Leicestershire County Show and boasts first-class road and rail links.

“And visitors flood into Market Harborough, book out hotels and B&Bs, spend vital cash in our fantastic shops and businesses and generate a lot of money for the local economy.

“The Showground highlights and showcases our amazing town and surrounding countryside,” said Cllr Knowles.

“We have to do all we can to secure its future as we fight to roar back from this coronavirus pandemic next year and beyond.

“It’s vital that we sit down now and talk to the landowners and the agricultural society about how we can do that as we shine a bright light on this very worrying situation.”

A spokesperson for the landowners told the Mail: ‘We can confirm that we - the landowners - are currently in negotiations with the Leicestershire Agricultural Society regarding this.

“However, the nature of these discussions is confidential and regretfully no further information is available at this time.”

Asked about their brief two-line comment, Cllr Knowles replied: “It’s highly regrettable that the landowners have missed this opportunity to ease our growing fears and clarify and explain to all of us what’s happening here.

“Alarm bells are ringing.

“It’s a good job that we have raised and exposed this issue now so we can drag it out into the open.

“The people of Harborough have every right to learn and to be told what the future holds for our beloved Showground.”

Cllr Phil King, who leads Harborough council, said: “We are trying to set up a meeting with the landowners and the agricultural society as soon as possible.

“We all need to clearly understand what is happening.”

The Conservative council chief stressed: “This site was offered as part of an S106 development agreement three or four years ago.

“It’s a very important cog in our local economy and for tourism.

“It’s a huge asset because it’s a blank canvas.

“It’s been used to stage so many big events there over the years.

“I can’t think of another site like it in the area – and we do see it playing a vital part in our economic recovery and growth.”

A Harborough council spokesman said: “The County Showground attracts thousands of people to the Harborough district each year and will form an important part of our Covid-19 recovery in terms of tourism.

“We are arranging a meeting with the site owners to discuss any concerns and resolve any uncertainty.”

James Webb, the chairman of Leicestershire Agricultural Society, told the Mail: “I wouldn’t say I’m losing any sleep over this issue but it’s certainly very much on my mind.

“The landowners gave us the Showground to run and operate for them in about 2015.

“To be fair to them they have helped and supported us along the way.

“But now we really need to know where we stand in terms of the future.”

The Billesdon-based farmer added: “From our point of view we would very much like a longer lease on the site.

“The organisers of events who come here obviously want long-term security.

“They want to know for how many years in advance they can book up an incredible site such as the Showground so that they can plan well ahead.

“We are already hoping to line up a big game show here for next Easter.

“To replace the Showground you’d have to find another 100 acres of flat, level well-drained land with brilliant access for visitors – and that would be almost impossible to do.

“So I’m looking forward to sitting down, even if virtually, with the district council and the landowners to hammer out just how we are going to go ahead with this over the next few years.”