As development intensifies across Sydney, Canterbury Racecourse has become something rare and exceptional: thirty‑five hectares of precious open green space. Up until now, the community has held back proposals for high‑rise towers on the site, but it is now understandably concerned that developers are back on the march. The Australian Turf Club has submitted a development application to rezone the car park on the corner of Princess and King streets as a surplus to needs for the ever popular night racing at the track. While it might seem inconsequential, the community knows that this is the thin edge of the wedge for high‑rise development at Canterbury Racecourse. We cannot allow it to be sold off piece by piece to developers. I acknowledge the important work being done by local residents to save the racecourse, including the Ashbury Community Group, the Canterbury Racecourse Action Group, and the Sydenham to Bankstown Alliance. They know that the future of the site lies in a planning process that is clear, transparent and fair. They also know that it is under threat.
Ashbury is a small, quiet heritage suburb, but it speaks with a loud and determined voice when it comes to threats of overdevelopment. When the Chubb and Tyres 4U sites were initially earmarked for development in 2015, Ashbury residents organised and fought against the proposal for 21‑storey towers in the middle of their suburb. The Ashbury Community Group doorknocked every household, delivered a thousand‑strong petition to the New South Wales Government, and organised planning meetings to express concerns about the development and put forward a collective vision for their suburb. They lobbied their elected representatives and navigated the complex and difficult planning processes of the State Government and the now disgraced Canterbury Council. Working with the new Canterbury Bankstown council it was able to successfully scale back development at the site, an outcome that validated its principled stand against the original proposal. The Ashbury community is not anti-development; it just wants a place at the table when it comes to decisions being made about the future of its suburb.
The development at the Chubb and Tyres 4U sites pales in comparison to what could be in the pipeline for the Canterbury Park Racecourse. In 2017 the Australian Turf Club [ATC] 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. In a press conference at the time with my Federal colleague the member for Watson, Tony Burke, City of Canterbury Bankstown Mayor Khal Asfour 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.
Of course, the New South Wales Government had set the scene for such outrageous overreach by including the entire racecourse site in the revised Sydenham to Bankstown Urban Renewal Corridor Strategy, slating the site for high-rise of up to 18 storeys. Canterbury has already been subjected to rampant development, with many of those approvals now subject to investigation by the ICAC. The community is sick to death of developers bypassing the planning process at the expense of good design and fair planning.
Canterbury Bankstown Council and Mayor Khal Asfour get this, and have worked to restore transparency. They know just how important it is that any change to the racecourse site be approached holistically and informed by community input. They have earmarked the racecourse site for a master plan process with a significant contribution towards open space. They have established the Canterbury Racecourse Coordination Committee to help guide future planning for the site, chaired by the Greater Sydney Commission's Central City and South District Commissioner, Mr Peter Poulet. A community voice panel of up to 10 local residents will provide input and feedback directly into the process. The process is due to get underway early this year and it is the right approach. However, all that work is undermined by the club's development application [DA]. Similar DAs have been withdrawn in the past following strong campaigns from local residents. Residents are understandably alarmed that this new DA, lodged over the summer holidays, presents an attempt to circumvent the master plan and coordination committee processes.
Given the important work being done by Canterbury Bankstown Council and the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, it is imperative that the New South Wales planning Minister urgently intervene. The member for Canterbury and I have written to the Minister asking him to commit to processes that give residents the strongest voice possible when it comes to the future of their suburbs. It is clear that Canterbury Park Racecourse offers an extraordinary opportunity for our local community. I have argued that the site is perfectly suited for the establishment of an inner-west parklands, a substantial open green space to rival Centennial Park or the Western Sydney Parklands. The inner west has some of the lowest ratios of open space per capita in the city and creating open, green, recreational space would go a long way to filling the gap. It would also reflect the rich history of the site and acknowledge the important role the racecourse has played in inner west life for many generations.