15 June 2009 – Financial Times
Ffos Las racecourse will open its doors for a sell-out first race meeting on Thursday, following a £20m reclamation of what was once Europe’s largest open-cast coal mine.
The scheme has been financed by Walters Group, the Welsh mining, demolition and land regeneration specialist headed by David Walters, the company chairman and racehorse owner.
The Carmarthenshire site near Llanelli was acquired by the group in 2002 and has been developed to host both National Hunt and Flat race meetings.
The 600-acre complex is one of several brownfield site projects handled by Walters, which continues to operate a mining business.
Walters handled the £5.7m reclamation of the contaminated Ebbw Vale Steelworks Westgate site for Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council in 2006, along with the Castlegate development in Caerphilly valued at £35m.
The 60-acre Caerphilly site was originally a coal washery and then used from 1947 to the late 1970s to landfill a range of materials including colliery spoil and other hazardous industrial waste. It was once claimed to be one of the most heavily contaminated sites in the UK.
Work on Ffos Las, the first National Hunt course to be completed in Britain in more than 80 years, required the stabilisation of former mine workings and handling of 1.2m cubic metres of earthwork. The result is an all-weather oval track one mile and four furlongs long that can accommodate 16,000 spectators.
Extensive irrigation has been used in the site, including the use of a pump house and lagoons to improve the standard of the track for racing on the flat and over hurdles. The course will operate under the management of Northern Racing, which operates nine other racecourses in the UK.
Walters Group was founded in 1982 and originally concentrated on plant hire, civil engineering, bulk earthworks and open-cast mining.
However, it has become more involved in land regeneration schemes at redundant mining and heavy industrial sites and in leisure development.
In addition to its Ffos Las racecourse and equine centre, the group’s mining division also operates the Walters Arena motorsports complex on a mining site at Glynneath on a 1,300-acre site that “has the potential for a variety of uses such as landfill, coal and sandstone extraction”, according to the company.