Board Chairman Mrs. Jan Wilson released documents showing the Rural City of Wangaratta had been informed on six occasions of the possible closure of the Wangaratta facility, if a partnership to upgrade or relocate the track could not be reached.
“The decision to end racing at Wangaratta is an extremely difficult one, but it comes after regular and ongoing discussions with the council, industry and community representatives about the need for a partnership to rebuild or relocate the track,” Mrs Wilson said.
The documents show the local council had been kept informed of the possible closure on several occasions, along with the local MP Ken Jasper, Wangaratta Greyhound Racing Committee, Harness Racing Victoria and the greyhound industry through reports in The Adviser.
“Since 2007 we have been trying to get support to unblock the constraints at Avian Park and win support for a joint capital investment,” Mrs Wilson said.
The correspondence shows that the decision to end racing should come as no surprise as:
- On seven occasions the council and other parties had been told that the possible development of Avian Park was constrained by its use as a harness training facility and a funding partnership of about 50% towards a $6 million cost was needed to rebuild or relocate the track, otherwise it could be closed.
- On September 26, 2007 the GRV Chair and CEO, John Stephens met with the Wangaratta Greyhound Racing Club (WGRC) committee to explain the scenarios – ranging from closure to redevelopment.
- On September 27, 2007, GRV and WGRC met with Mr Jasper, the then Mayor of Wangaratta Don Joyce and its CEO Doug Sharp to seek support to secure the longterm future of greyhound racing in Wangaratta.
- On November 26, 2007, John Stephens wrote to the CEO of the City of Wangaratta Doug Sharp seeking a 50% financial contribution from the local council/and/or the State Government via Regional Development and to secure a long term lease for the WGRC, possibly on a green field site.
- On 14 January, 2008, Mr Stephens emailed John Anderson, CEO of Harness Racing Victoria – with a copy sent to Neville Tait, Doug Sharp and Ken Jasper – warning that the future of Wangaratta “may be severely restricted if not discontinued” if Avian Park was not redeveloped and the cost shared 50:50 with the community and government. Mr Anderson responded the same day saying Harness Racing was not viable in Wangaratta and there would be no capital investment in Avian Park.
- On 15 January, 2008, Mr Stephens again wrote to Doug Sharp stressing “the critical nature of resolving this matter with some urgency” as GRV was finalising its capital works budget to 2012.
- In February 2008, Mr Stephens again met with representatives from Wangaratta council, the Greyhound and Harness Clubs and the Department of Sustainability and Environment to explore a feasibility study towards a shared facility, including a possible land swap.
- On March 11, 2008, GRV wrote to council confirming Harness racing favoured staying at Avian Park, and seeking interest in a feasibility study to consider all available options.
- In September 2008, the feasibility study proposal stalled.
- In February 2009, council wrote a “To Whom It May Concern” letter to the Wangaratta greyhound club providing general support for greyhound racing, but no financial support or future commitment to redeveloping Avian Park. This letter was presented to the GRV Board during a meeting with Wangaratta GRC representatives in February. The Board noted there was no financial or other commitment concerning Avian Park by the council.
- On March 31, 2009, the Board considered a detailed report on the urgent and necessary works regarding infrastructure at Avian Park and determined to end racing from June 26, 2009.
Mr. Stephens said it was disappointing that the council claimed a lack of consultation given the long history of meetings and correspondence. “We have tried for a long time to seek movement of the harness track and/or a joint redevelopment, but there was no interest from other parties,” Mr Stephens said.
The GRV Board today resolved to :
- Reaffirm its decision to cease greyhound race meetings at Avian Park effective June 26, 2009.
- Reaffirm its decision to maintain Avian Park as a trial track only, until December 31, 2009. At this time, a decision regarding the future of the track will be reviewed.
- Consider any forthcoming proposal from the Rural City of Wangaratta which addresses the need of a partnership to rebuild or relocate the current Avian Park facilities.