For nearly two decades now, the Top Gear test track has been at an old military airfield in Surrey, South East England. But soon enough, the Hammerhead and Chicago turns will be a park, the Bacharach looks like it’ll become some kind of water feature, and a roadway looks to be planned in the Gambon’s place.
After years of rumors, the U.K. government has approved plans to bulldoze Top Gear’s famous test track. The development group for the area announced last week that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, gave it the approval to bulldoze the track to make room for homes, parks and businesses. The current airport runway will even become “Runway Park.”
Top Gear has used the airfield, Dunsfold Aerodrome, as its test track since about 2001. The track survived all of the host changes when Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May left Top Gear in the controversy of Clarkson punching a producer, and it’s survived years of rumors about its own demise—plans for a development of the area first came around in 2006, according to The Sun.
But losing the track is more than a nostalgic thing. Top Gear has used the airfield track for its time trials of cars and various laps for almost 20 years, and it makes for experimental control—a loose experimental control, since weather and track conditions change all the time—when testing abilities of different cars. Losing it would mean a total reset on lap times and handling observations from testing.
The development plans are on the Dunsfold Park development group’s website, and include 1,800 houses, a market square for businesses, a school, a nursing home, a community center, a health center, a church, park areas and a “moat.” Plans also include 30,000 square meters of extra business space for the area, which already has more than 100 businesses employing more than 900 people.
The website’s page for frequently asked questions already asks about Top Gear, but the development group ambiguously answered its own proposed question:
Would filming for Top Gear have to re-locate if you gained planning consent?
Top Gear and other similar programmes use parts of the airfield runways during filming. Development will mean that aviation uses will cease and the existing runways will be removed and re-used during the construction process to ensure the minimal removal of materials from the site.
(The FAQ page was evidently done before the recent approval, which is why the question says “if you gained planning consent.” The group has gained it.)
The Secretary of State approval isn’t the first time the development group has gotten the go-ahead, but it’s the big one. A local council voted 10-8 in favor of the development plans in December 2016, and neither the council nor the BBC responded to Jalopnik’s requests for comment about the decision and how it would affect the show when the news came out.
Jalopnik has reached out to the Dunsfold Park development group and Top Gear representatives to ask whether there’s a set date for the development to begin, how much longer the show has to film there, and whether Top Gear has other tracks in mind to replace the current one.
Update 3:41 p.m. Top Gear declined to comment on the development. Jalopnik has not yet heard back from the development group.
Update, April 4 at 10 a.m. A representative for the development group did not comment on Top Gear, but told Jalopnik that a start date for development has not been decided upon yet. The approved plan is only an outline, the group’s spokesperson said, and “there is a lot more work to be completed [on it] before construction commences.”