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What next for Peterborough Panthers' speedway track?

Peterborough Panthers v Belle Vue
Peterborough Panthers used the East of England Showground for speedway racing up until 7 October

Silence has fallen over a city's motorcycle speedway track more than a month on from its farewell meeting.

Peterborough Panthers raced at the East of England Showground for 53 years, but the site's £50m redevelopment is leaving the team without a home.

As supporters prepare to hold a rally to raise awareness of the club's fight for survival, BBC News looks at what is next for the team and their historic home.

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What is Peterborough's speedway history?

Peterborough Panthers stadium
The East of England Showground was home to Peterborough Panthers for 53 years

Peterborough Panthers had been at the East of England Showground, on the western edge of the city, since the club's inception in 1970.

The team claimed their first league title when they were crowned champions of the then British League Division Two in 1992, repeating the feat in 1998.

The Panthers made a step up to the top level of British speedway in the Elite League for the first time in 1999, and they finished top of the league and became national champions.

They won another title in 2006 and remained at the top level of British speedway until 2013, when they dropped back to the second tier after several changes in the club's ownership.

In 2019, Peterborough Panthers moved back up to the top level and became champions again in 2021 after beating Belle Vue.

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What are the plans for the site?

Artist impression of East of England Showground plans
The development for the site includes plans for mixed sports, including bowling and mini-golf

Peterborough Panthers are not expected to race next year because the 165-acre (66.7 hectare) showground site is set for a £50m redevelopment - and it does not include a speedway track.

Development plans by the site's operator Asset Earning Power Group (AEPG) include a leisure complex, up to 1,500 homes, a hotel, primary school and a care home.

Two separate applications have been submitted - the first would see all of the showground's buildings demolished, except for the indoor arena, and 650 dwellings put in their place.

A second application would see a further 850 homes, a 250-bed hotel, the school and a leisure village created, which are expected to include bowling and mini-golf facilities.

The charity East of England Agricultural Society (EEAS) is the owner of the showground.

AEPG said Peterborough Panthers' use of it had "only ever been on a season-by-season basis", adding there had "never been a long term commitment".

It said it had experienced "significant costs" since becoming the site's operator in 2021 and "there was no ability to commit to a 2024 speedway season".

"AEPG and the current owners of the Panthers are in conversation about the removal of any elements owned by Peterborough Speedway," the company added.

"We are sorry to hear the club has not found a new home in this time."

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What reaction has there been?

Sport England, an independent body whose board members are appointed by the secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, have lodged an official objection to the development plans.

In a detailed submission to Peterborough City Council, its principal planning manager Stuart Morgans wrote: "The applicant has not addressed the loss of the existing sports facility in their supporting information.

"As such, there would seem to be insufficient information provided to assess the loss of the existing sports facility in accordance with the relevant policies."

Sport England and Peterborough Panthers have been approached for comment.

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'Absolute tragedy'

Crowds at the Peterborough Panthers fixture
Speedway has been part of Peterborough's community for many years

Peter Oakes, former owner of the Peterborough Panthers, said speedway events had been an "integral part of the city's sporting culture".

"You walk around the city and people will stop you and talk about speedway," he told BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.

He said it was an "absolute tragedy" there was no alternative site in the city for the team.

Supporters organised a rally in support of the team's fight for survival on 18 November.

Julie Stevenson, an independent councillor for Orton Waterville, said Peterborough could be at risk of losing its identity if they were to lose speedway racing.

"None of us know what is going to happen next. Today was about reminding people not to give up," she said.

Peterborough Panthers rally at the Guildhall
Fans turned out on 18 November despite the wet weather to rally support for their beloved speedway team
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What next for Peterborough Panthers?

A six-person consortium is looking at a possible takeover of the team. The group is also asking AEPG to reconsider closing the track.

AEPG said the current Panthers owner Keith Chapman had begun removing the speedway track and other items he owned.

A spokesperson said it would not be feasible to put a speedway track within the development plan.

Mick Bratley, a member of the consortium, said: "It's been our home for 53 years, we're not looking to find a new home, we want to stay at the showground.

"It's a real family sport and we need that sort of thing in this pressured way of life," he added.

Wayne Fitzgerald, the former leader of Peterborough City Council, told a virtual meeting the team's future was "a difficult issue" with "no easy answer".

He said: "We [the council] have been racking our brains for months. I have to say we're at a loss at the moment [for where the team could move to].

"Whatever we can do to facilitate something, we will do. But I have to say nobody officially from the club or anywhere else has approached me or the council in any form or way."

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