An announcement yesterday has confirmed what motorsports fans in NSW have feared for the last month or so, Goulburn’s Wakefield Park Raceway will cease operations on September the 1st, probably permanently. This news marks the end of a long-running saga that was almost certainly going to end this way despite the protests, complaints and arguments by all of the parties concerned. Officially the operation of the track is in abeyance, pending a solution to the disagreement between the track’s operators, Benalla Auto Club (who also run Winton Raceway in Victoria), Goulburn City Council and the NSW Land and Environment Court. However, since the issue was first raised the parties concerned appear to be no closer to solving the impasse despite impassioned arguments by those in favour of the track’s continuance.
WP was opened in 1993, a personal project of noted auto racing enthusiast, Paul Samuels, and its construction and layout clearly reflected the old-skool background of its owner. Apart from the bare paddocks on which it was built, previously part of a sheep station, the track could easily be thought of as belonging in rural England, even its name evoking the oil manufactured by British Petroleum and sold all over the world.
The track is presently hugely busy, hosting motorcycle and car racing events, track days, corporate events and providing a venue for advanced driver and rider training for the nearby Police Academy. Plans were in place for a track extension and other significant improvements to add to the many that have been put in place in the last 30 years.
However, it was these plans that were to open the door to the track’s demise. Despite overwhelming support from the local community, a small group of “green” activists who live nowhere near the track began to agitate with the council citing noise and “amenity” issues (where have we heard THAT before?) When BAC submitted their plans for track upgrades, these activists made themselves known and the council were forced to refer the issue to the Land and Environment Court. Despite it name, the body is merely a bureaucratic body of the NSW Government and its decisions are binding and not subject to appeal. Yet another example of the fact that we no longer live in a democracy.
Now, when the LAC examined the proposed developments of the circuit AND heard from the other parties, all of whom, except the activists, were in favour of the proposal, they found that the track had, in fact, been operating in contravention of its original Development Application from almost Day 1. As a result of this the LAC decreed that the track must go back to its original charter which allowed operation of the track as a motor racing venue ONCE A MONTH. No other motoring activities would be allowed.
Plainly this was completely unviable and despite petitions, council support and the support of the local community which stands to lose MILLIONS of dollars in revenue associated with the track and the events that it hosts, BAC has been forced to admit defeat and the track will close at the end of the month.
Should the original operators have handled the provisions of the original DA differently? Of course they should have. Should the previous Goulburn City Councils over the last 30 years been more diligent in ensuring the the track operators obeyed the provisions of the DA under which the track was built and approved? Of course they should have, too.
But they didn’t and the passage of time ensured that, the longer the track continued to grow and prosper, the more difficult it was going to be to deal with the DA issue should it ever arise.
What does the future hold? I don’t believe the track has a future in its present form. Submission of a new DA will only expose the application to an increasingly vicious and virulent bunch of eco-Nazis who will ensure that there are millions of “environmental” reasons why the track should not re-open. The LAC has no interest whatsoever in whether the closure of the track could deal a death blow to dozens of businesses in Goulburn and, since their decisions are not subject to appeal, the blow-ins who moved to the area long after the track was built will win again.
I loved WP; I commentated many meetings there and enjoyed its top-rate facilities and an excellent relationship with the track operators. I’m sorry to see it go but I don’t believe that we can ever look forward to a new road racing circuit being built ANYWHERE in NSW.
Bye bye WP, it was fun.