Decision imminent on June’s Royal Ascot, as project director David Trench leaves £185m redevelopment scheme

Fresh doubt has been cast over whether the redevelopment of Ascot Racecourse will be finished in time for the royal race meeting in June after it emerged that project director David Trench had left the scheme.

A decision is to be made next month or early October on whether the £185m Laing O’Rourke grandstand development will be ready in time. Royal Ascot could be moved to Newmarket or, as it was this year, to York if it was thought that the Berkshire racecourse would not be completed.

Trench, who founded project manager Trench Farrow in 1979, is one of the biggest names in the project management sector, and is best known for overseeing the delivery of the Millennium Dome and troubleshooting on the £500m British Library project.

He has been working on the six-year Ascot scheme since 2001. He said he had “not been getting on too well” with the client, but added that the decision to leave the project was mutual. He said: “To be honest I’m 63, and I’m looking to retire to France anyway, so it was a good time to leave the project.”

He added that the project faced difficulties owing to the pressure of confirming next year’s race card. He said: “The client is very nervous.”

Douglas Erskine-Crum, the chief executive of Ascot Racecourse, rejected this claim. He said: “We’re still on the construction phase of the project and remain confident that it will be ready for the meeting at Ascot on 27 May. But it is a very challenging project and a decision is yet to be made for the royal race meeting in June.

“It was always the case that the decision on this would be made in the late summer or early autumn. The project is not in trouble.”

It is a very challenging project and a decision is yet to be made for the royal race meeting in June

Douglas Erskine-Crum, Ascot CEO

Erskine-Crum said the outcome of the project would hinge on whether the construction programme for the redevelopment remained on course.

He added that after extensive talks with Trench it had been decided that the project director would leave the scheme, but emphasised that he had been paid in full.

Erskine-Crum said it was “for the good of the project” that the Ascot management team had taken over the running of the scheme until handover. Ascot’s redevelopment chief executive, Howard Shiplee, will now lead the project along with operations director Ronnie Wilkie.

The designs for the scheme, which is claimed to be the most extensive of its type ever seen in Europe, were undertaken by architect HOK Sport in partnership with consultant engineer Buro Happold. The centrepiece of the project will be a grandstand with an internal naturally lit galleria, which will bring daylight into a covered public concourse. Above the galleria there will be a lightweight parasol roof structure, which has been designed to replicate the natural tree lining of the racecourse.

The maximum capacity for the development will remain as it is now, at 80,000, with a new parade ring located behind the stands. The pre-parade ring and saddling boxes will be relocated in and around the tote building, overlooking the paddock lawns.

Laing O’Rourke declined to comment.