Well, this time we have the Sun Herald to thank for bringing out into the open what is apparently an ongoing but secretive investigation into shifting Wentworth Park to western Sydney.
Several stories last Saturday, Sunday and Monday, together with letters to the editor, are rabbitting on about the pros and cons of selling off the headquarters of greyhound racing and moving to a newly built complex at Eastern Creek, some 34 km from the CBD. That puts it half way between Parramatta (20km) and Penrith (49km). The facility would be shared with the harness code and perhaps other sporting organisations. Or so the story goes.
The problem is that it is just a story. A hopeful one, at that. A property developer, Brookfield Multiplex, is putting together a proposal to government which would require selling off Wentworth Park in its entirety and allowing it to build high density housing on the site. It suggests the cash would go towards creating a collection of sporting facilities in the west.
Wentworth Park is not just a dog track and a grandstand. While it is hardly a “park” in the original sense of the word, it does contain several sporting fields used mostly for junior football and schools. A trust controls the racing property and leases bits to various people, including GRNSW which then rents it to the GBOTA. The lease runs until 2027 but GRNSW says it has been negotiating an extension to 2054 – without any resolution so far. The playing fields are actually under the control of the local council, which also charges greyhound fans parking fees when they use the area.
Interestingly, the trust is chaired by Percy Allan, a former public servant, part-time academic and previously chairman of the very same GRNSW. This is the bloke who once spoke out aggressively about the horrors of allowing NT bookies access to racing and wagering. He implored participants to avoid them at all cost. How times change! It is a small world, isn’t it?
In principle, there is nothing wrong with GRNSW having a look at the potential for a replacement site for racing, although it would have been nice for them to tell us about it before we read it in the daily papers. GRNSW is paying Deloittes to look into the possibilities so you can expect a substantial bill to arrive, regardless of what happens with the developers.
The Wenty complex is turning into a bit of a disaster. When last I counted there were some 13 organisations that had to sign off on any change to the place. That would now be down to 12 following the demise of the NCA, but it still includes people like the Heritage Society which views the kennel block as some sort of national icon (translation – it’s very old). The grandstand is aging, which is why big money had to be spent on the roof recently. A once thriving mezzanine level has now been put out to pasture as crowd numbers have progressively dwindled over the years.
Most important of all, the track is a disruptive one and badly needs a complete rebuild in order to provide fairer racing as well as middle distance events.
One group that would not mind a shift to the west are trainers. Many of them live out there where they have room for their dogs. Of course, so do half the population of Sydney – a growing half – while industrial development is moving on apace, as is planning for Badgerys Creek airport, which is less than 10km from Eastern Creek.
Football has done well by shifting many matches west to Homebush, which is less than half way to Eastern Creek and both are already served by freeways to one degree or another. The airport will ramp that up a bit more.
However, the whole deal will turn on what government decides to do about Wenty and the surrounding playing fields. The harness people came up smelling like a rose when they sold off Harold Park and moved to the outskirts of town at Menangle Park (52km) with a brand new track. That will not happen at Wenty. The land is owned by “the people” and so politics will govern its future.
In turn, that will mean a battle between the environmental lobby and a government always keen to fill its coffers. Should the former win, as is highly likely, the whole thing would be turned into a recreational area, or at least largely so. Green space is as scarce as hen’s teeth in that part of the city.
In that event, greyhounds would be entitled to compensation for the unused portion of its 2027 lease, and hopefully to some additional help from a government which is highly dependent on tax income from racing. Coincidentally, that might give government the opportunity to restore, in one way or another, some fairness to the way TAB commissions are being distributed (as recommended by the current parliamentary Inquiry). After all, it makes no sense to allow greyhound racing to wither away, taking with it a substantial annual contribution to the Treasury.
Racing Minister, George Souris, has been of no great help to greyhounds but he is a country boy at heart and may not like to see any forced de-licensing of provincial tracks, particularly his local circuit at Muswellbrook.
The more likely outcome is that Multiplex and Co will not get what they want out of Wentworth Park, but they may get a little bit to take home. That still leaves them with the potential for big developments as they are also after the nearby Fish Markets. They may well be able to do a Packer/Bangaroo style deal which leaves everyone reasonably happy.
Either way, hang on to your tickets for the next ten years as it will take at least that long to make any headway. After all, the new airport took 50 years to bring about and the options there were as plain as a pikestaff.
HIT’ÉM WHERE IT HURTS
Great to see, for the first time I can remember, the Golden Easter Egg being advertised on free-to-air TV – 7-Three in this case – in the middle of an AFL match. That’s likely to be more productive than the traditional ads on SKY where only the already-converted are watching.
Having said that, the ad was not a memorable one. It mentioned only the fact that the races were on and made little emotional appeal to viewers. Budget restrictions (presumably of the GBOTA’s) may have limited the production expense. That’s a pity because we need much more of this.
By comparison, it’s worth noting a comment on the gallops’ “Championship” advertising by Patrick Smith of The Australian (April 11).
“IT is hard to think of a sport more oblivious to the world in which it seeks to operate than thoroughbred racing. It is a pastime/industry that only connects with the greater community when the grog flows and the business is dressed up to party hard”.
“The advertisement that you can see now promoting the Randwick championship carnival seems at pains to celebrate everything bar the horse. The animal is an afterthought. Everything else takes precedence. Alcohol, punting, bores, wankers, snappy suits, cool guys and good-looking girls”.
All very true, but they did get reasonable crowds to Randwick, so it is a start. The point being that they were giving fans a reason to attend, rather than just posting a diary note, as the greyhounds did.