I am proud to contribute to debate on the Canterbury Park Racecourse (Sale and Redevelopment Moratorium) Bill 2021.
I thank the member for Canterbury for bringing it to the Parliament and I thank the member for Strathfield for her support. The bill seeks to extend the moratorium on the sale or disposal of infrastructure at Canterbury Park Racecourse for another five years, with the objective of halting residential redevelopment on the site while a holistic master plan is being undertaken by council.
The initial 10-year moratorium on selling or disposing of racing assets was first implemented in 2011 with the merger of the Sydney Turf Club and the Australian Jockey Club. It was designed to shore up the viability of the newly merged Australian Turf Club and to protect Sydney's racecourses from encroaching development. Ten years later and that threat is stronger than ever.
Extending the moratorium will allow the current master plan process for the site to continue. We reject the notion the planning Minister put this morning that the moratorium will halt the process. Indeed, the process began while the former moratorium was in place. We want that to continue without the threat of development to give the local community confidence that their voice, not that of developers, will be heard in guiding the future of that incredibly important site for the inner west. Communities surrounding the racecourse have borne the brunt of overdevelopment over the past decade. High-rise apartments now stretch the length of Canterbury Road. As we know, much of that development has been subject to poor planning and dodgy development deals, frankly with despicable behaviour from people across the political spectrum—make no bones about it, there has been some dodgy development.
Amid the ever-growing number of apartments is an incredible oasis: 35 hectares of precious open green space that to date has been protected. Horseracing has been a fixture at the site since the 1840s. The racecourse was formally constituted in 1871 and was zoned as recreational land. It was listed on the State Heritage Register in 1955 and was recognised for its importance to horseracing and to the communities that surround it. Night racing began at the site in 1999 and that has only grown in popularity. Friday nights are now filled with family entertainment, night food markets, live music and, of course, racing. The Australian Turf Club owns and operates the site. However it is no secret that the future of horseracing at the site is an open question.
Local residents are rightly concerned that the land will be sold off bit by bit for high‑rise residential development, which would have a disastrous impact on adjoining suburbs including Ashbury in my electorate. Ashbury is a beautiful heritage suburb of about 3,500 people. Although it is small, it speaks with a loud and determined voice, particularly when threatened by development that seeks to undermine the heritage character of that close-knit community. I especially acknowledge the persistence and tenacity of the Ashbury Community Group and the Canterbury Racecourse Action Group, or CRAG, for working effectively to inform and organise local residents about proposals for the site.
I stress that those groups and local residents on the whole are not anti‑development, but they demand proper planning processes that are transparent, fair and conducted in full consultation with the community. That is hardly a big ask. They understand that the activities currently undertaken at the racecourse may have a limited future and that there may be scope for some residential development at the site so long as it is accompanied by a significant commitment to public infrastructure and open green space. But they will not accept developer-driven proposals that circumvent the planning process or that come via whole-scale rezonings like that proposed by the State Government in its Sydenham to Bankstown Urban Renewal Corridor Strategy, which lists the racecourse as a priority precinct.
So much of the development residents have seen in their communities has a cloud hanging over it, with multiple ICAC investigations exposing the lengths to which dodgy councillors and politicians have gone to make a buck in their backyard. Residents have had a gutful, and they refuse to be ignored any longer. We are thankful that the Canterbury Bankstown council and its mayor have listened to residents and understand that any change at the racecourse site must be considered holistically and informed by community voices. The council has initiated a master-planning process to guide future planning for the site and has established a Canterbury Racecourse Coordination Committee that includes a community voice panel made up of local residents.
The committee is chaired by the Greater Sydney Commission's respected Central City and South District Commissioner, Mr Peter Poulet, and I had the pleasure of speaking with him and others about this process. There is concern in the community, however, that representatives on this committee are prevented from discussing their deliberations publicly. That undermines public confidence in the process and I ask the Minister to look into this aspect, because the community needs confidence. The publishing of a timetable for the process would increase confidence and provide further transparency.
Master planning of the site is broadly supported, as we have heard, by the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces. I thank the Minister for visiting the site with the member for Canterbury and I as well as many local residents, particularly the activists within CRAG. In that meeting residents raised a number of questions and concerns with the Minister, including issues around who owns the land. It is an ongoing issue of debate and I thank the Minister for indicating that he is looking into those matters. Residents also demanded that parcels of the land be included in the master-planning process. We want to ensure this is holistic. They also raised important questions about the transparency of the process.
Importantly, residents asked the Minister to investigate the creation of inner west parkland at the site. I believe cooperation between State and Federal governments here is critical and provides a significant opportunity. I thank the Minister for making the time to meet with local residents. But one of the strongest signals we can send to residents—and frankly to developers—is to pass the bill before the Parliament today. It does not halt the master-planning process—indeed, that process began while the moratorium was in place—but it provides confidence to the community. If there is broad support for a master-planning process, why must we extend the moratorium on the sale or disposal of infrastructure at Canterbury Park Racecourse?
The short answer is we need to give the community confidence. We need to guarantee that the Australian Turf Club cannot sell off the land, piece by piece, and we need to guarantee that developers cannot throw up badly designed and poorly constructed high-rise towers. In 2017 the Australian Turf Club submitted a development application to amend the permitted uses of the area 6 car park on Princess Street. In effect, the application sought to deem the car park as surplus to the needs of night racing at the racecourse, thereby allowing it to be offered for sale. At the same time, the Australian Turf Club and Mirvac signed a deal to develop surplus land at the site, and the community was horrified when Mirvac began advertising the partnership in early 2018.
The deal hearkened back to similar proposals put forward by Mirvac for towers of 20‑plus storeys along Carrington Road in Marrickville in my electorate. It was rightly met with strident opposition by local residents, who declared our suburb was called Marrickville not "Mirvac-ville". The sheer audacity of the proposals was breathtaking, particularly given that they were announced in glossy advertisements before any planning approval had been granted or any community consultation had been undertaken. The local mayor said:
The entire racecourse isn't even zoned to allow for residential housing, so it's outrageous a developer can openly start to market a housing development which has not even been lodged with council, let alone approved.
It is unsurprising that the community is sceptical. It is just another example of the outrageous developer-driven overreach that has come to be the norm in our community, and this bill seeks to protect residents from that. Earlier this year, in the height of summer when nobody was paying attention, the application to declare the area 6 car park as surplus land was back—unsurprisingly, right as the existing moratorium expired.
Residents were rightly appalled and saw the application for what it was: an attempt to carve off a piece of the racecourse for high‑rise development right as the council's master-planning process was due to get underway. The member for Canterbury, the member for Strathfield and I immediately wrote to the Australian Turf Club and Canterbury Bankstown council asking that the application be withdrawn. Thousands of residents joined us and signed petitions echoing calls for the master-planning process to be allowed to continue without the threat of piecemeal development at the site. I seek a brief extension of time. [Extension of time]
I again acknowledge the extraordinary passion and hard work of the Canterbury Racecourse Action Group and Ashbury Community Group, both of which immediately activated their members to put pressure on the club. Thankfully, the Australian Turf Club succumbed to that community pressure and withdrew its application. While this is a huge win and source of relief for the local community, it is by no means a guarantee that there will be no further overreach by developers or threats to the master-planning process. In so many ways the damage has already been done, with the application sowing confusion and undermining community confidence in the master-planning process for the site.
The strongest way to reaffirm community confidence and protect the master-planning process is to support the bill and extend the moratorium. I make no apology that I would like to see open recreational green space at the heart of any change to this site. Canterbury and the inner west have among the lowest ratios of open space in the city, and residents are crying out for open spaces and parks. We need inner west parkland. We have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic just how important quality open green space is for local communities, especially those like Canterbury that have been subject to decades of overdevelopment. I note that the Federal member for Watson, Tony Burke, has called for the site to be retained as recreational open space, and I add my voice to calls for the racecourse site to be preserved as a landmark to rival Central Park.
Whatever the future of the site, change must only come through fair, transparent and holistic planning processes driven by local residents and not developers. I call on the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces and all members opposite to do the right thing by residents and support this bill, to give the community the confidence to work together to achieve a much‑needed grand open space for inner west residents.