EAST Lothian Council has been accused of taking up to £300,000 out of Musselburgh Racecourse’s funds to cover the legal costs of finding a new operator.

Ray Green, a director of Lothians Racing Syndicate (LRS) – partners of the council in running the racecourse, representing racing interests – described the legal costs as “excessive” as he criticised the local authority for delays in progressing the future of the course.

The council is currently preparing to put the future operation of the course out to tender but the process has fallen behind its original timescale.

At a meeting of Musselburgh Racing Associated Committee (MRAC) this week, Mr Green said that LRS, which has jointly run the course with the council for more than two decades, was extremely concerned about the delays and legal costs incurred.

And he said that LRS had asked the racecourse auditors to look at the decision to take the money from its funds.

He said: “I believe that the costs being incurred are excessive.”

MRAC replaced Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee, which oversaw the management of the course, earlier this year after relations between LRS and elected councillors who jointly made up the group deteriorated.

The British Horseracing Authority was so concerned by the situation it called for an independent review of the governance of the course, threatening to withdraw its licence to race unless action was taken.

Following the review, East Lothian Council set up MRAC with four elected councillors and two racing experts, currently LRS members, on it and agreed to put the operation of the course out to tender to a third party.

However, tensions between the two parties rose to the surface at the MRAC meeting this week as it was confirmed that the original plan to have a new operator in place by July 2019 had now put back to October next year.

Mr Green challenged the cost of the legal bills, asking why no discussions about who should foot the cost had been held prior to funds being taken from the racecourse.

However, the council’s legal adviser Carlo Grilli pointed out that it was LRS that “asked” for the external legal team involved to be appointed.

MRAC meetings have been held in public in a move to make the running of the racecourse, which is on Common Good land and leased to operators by the local authority, more transparent than it had been in the past.

However, at Tuesday’s meeting, six of the 10 items on the agenda were held in private, including a report from course general manager Bill Farnsworth which was expected to update the committee on the ongoing BHA inquiry into the deaths of four horses during one race day at the start of this month.

The council said the items were held in private as they contained “sensitive/confidential” information.

It has been confirmed that the racecourse licence, which was due to expire on December 31, has been extended by the British Horseracing Authority to October 15 next year.

Fiona O’Donnell, chairperson of Musselburgh Racing Associated Committee, said: “The renewal of the licence is good news for the racecourse and the staff and confirms the BHA’s confidence in the progress being made regarding the procurement process for the future of Musselburgh Racecourse.”