OCTOBER 20, 1997
AFTER a lengthy fight the TAG McLaren empire received planning permission in March to build a $100m factory on a 125-acre site at Mizens Farm, near Woking. It was the culmination of nearly six years of searching for a new team base. McLaren has been looking for a site for its new headquarters and testing circuit since the late 1980s - when the idea was dubbed McLarenello, in reference to Ferrari's facility at Maranello, in Italy.
McLaren boss Ron Dennis thought he had found the site in 1990 when the team bought the Lydden Hill racing circuit near Dover, in Kent, and applied for planning permission to develop the circuit into a company headquarters which would be "a flagship for British industry". There followed a lengthy legal battle over the ownership of the track and planning permission but in 1993 the project was axed because the staff in Woking had made it clear that they did not wish to relocate to Kent.
Dennis began looking for an alternative site and in 1995 the team bought Mizens Farm. It was situated in a protected "green belt" area and so McLaren had to go back to court to win planning permission. To make the package more attractive McLaren said it would establish of a world class engineering school and a McLaren museum. The local council was not happy about the construction of two large windtunnels. The team discussed the possibility of these being put underground but this did not seem a very practical solution given the heat build-up from such a facility. Government approval for the plans was expected but things went a little awry with the election of the new Labour government.
It is perhaps significant, therefore, that last week the Techniques d'Avant-Garde group - which owns 60% of the TAG McLaren empire - announced that it is taking over the running of the Farnborough Aerodrome from Britain's Ministry of Defence.
TAG says that it intends to develop the airfield for private aviation. The Ministry of Defence is now planning to sell off the 110-acre site next to the airfield, which formerly housed the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency.
The facility, which was originally known as the Royal Aircraft Factory and then the Royal Aircraft Establishment was established in 1906 and was the major aeronautical research and experimental station in Britain. Many outstanding aircraft were developed there, notably the Spitfire, the Hurricane and Concorde. In 1991 the RAE became part of the DERA but all British government aviation research has now been moved to Boscombe Down in Wiltshire and in recent years one of the DERA windtunnels has been used by Benetton.
The site - which is only eight miles from the current McLaren factory - could be a more effective headquarters for McLaren, allowing for all the windtunnels the team wants but also a possible test track.
In order to increase the private jet trade at Farnborough, TAG will need clearance from both the Civil Aviation Authority and the local council but it would be logical for the application to include noise from a testing circuit, which could be based on runways and perimeter roads not needed by the airfield.
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