PR campaign 'saves Newmarket' from controversial housing development plans

Plans for a controversial housing development by racehorse owner Lord Derby were last week defeated by what has been billed a 'classic PR campaign' by a pressure group.

‘Classic campaign’: Newmarket pressure group
‘Classic campaign’: Newmarket pressure group

Lord Derby had wanted to build about 1,200 houses, a hotel, park and ride scheme and a retail park on a 160-acre site in Newmarket, Suffolk.

But councillors voted against the plans at a meeting last Wednesday, after a long-running battle during which Save Historic Newmarket

Action Group used external PR help to fight the proposals.

The pressure group turned to independent PRO John Stonborough, a former adviser to ex-House of Commons speaker Michael Martin, to advise on strategic and tactical PR. Working with Ston­borough on the PR effort to see off the development was former Brunswick PRO Victoria Sabin.

‘The people of Newmarket believed passionately that Lord Derby's development would ruin their town and possibly their livelihood,' said Stonborough. ‘All attempts to dissuade Lord Derby had failed and the local district council seemed hell-bent on imposing Labour housing quotas on Newmarket, whatever the locals wanted. We had one shot and one shot only to halt it, so we mounted a classic PR campaign for them.'

Over eight months, Stonborough and Sabin targeted local, national and racing media and built up lobbying firepower with support from new Conservative MP Matthew Hancock, top racing commentators including Sir Peter O'Sullevan, John McCririck and Clare Balding, as well as legendary trainer Henry Cecil and Derby winner Sir Michael Stoute.

Stonborough said: ‘The local authority, despite being Conservative, seemed deaf to all pleas until we were able to prove there was no need for any more houses in the Newmarket area and it had a democratic obligation to respect local wishes.'

Last week's meeting, when Forest Heath district councillors voted against the plans, was so busy some people had to wait outside.

Photo: Emma Berry

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