The battle to save Canterbury Racecourse as open space
Canterbury Racecourse is a 35 hectare site located some 10km to the west of the Sydney CBD. It is larger than Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens.
According to the NSW Heritage Register, the site has been used for horse racing since 1852 (ie: for 166 years). It is a locally listed heritage item. It is currently zoned for private recreation under the Canterbury local environmental plan, which allows the area to function as a major recreation centre but prohibits construction of residential flat buildings.
Given that it is currently zoned for private recreation, Canterbury Racecourse has the potential to be acquired by the NSW Government and Canterbury-Bankstown Council for a minimal sum, to support the open space needs of a growing city. Instead, it is being earmarked for massive overdevelopment by private property developers. This web page outlines the recent history of activities around the racecourse.
History of the racecourse and the Sydenham to Bankstown strategy
The racecourse is a key site in the Sydenham to Bankstown corridor, where the Bankstown railway line is proposed to be ripped up and replaced by a new privately-operated Metro line.
The draft Sydenham to Bankstown Corridor Strategy was released in October 2015. The Sydenham to Bankstown urban renewal corridor strategy stated that Canterbury Racecourse was a “significant opportunity site should its current use change".
In response to the 2015 draft Sydenham to Bankstown Urban Renewal Strategy, planning consultant JBA lodged a submission on behalf of the Australian Turf Club (ATC) calling for three parcels of allegedly surplus land totalling 6.5 hectares on the edge of the racecourse boundary to be developed, including for high-rise towers.
The submission also called for the rest of the racecourse to be considered for development, stating: “Given the proximity of the site to Canterbury Railway Station, and the ability to provide areas of open space, the site has the ability to support medium and high density residential, should it become surplus to ATC’s requirements.” The submission defines “the site” as the entire 35 hectare racecourse, including the surplus lands.
In May 2016, at a NSW Government-organised community consultation session for Canterbury during May were asked: “What role, if any, could the Racecourse serve as areas for increased density.” This shows the government was lining the racecourse site up for development.
In a revised strategy for the corridor released in June 2017, the Department of Planning and Environment proposes the racecourse for comprehensive redevelopment.
The precinct plan for the Canterbury precinct stated: “The Strategy envisages Canterbury as a highly urbanised centre with high rise apartment buildings up to 25 storeys at the new town centre within easy walking distance of Sydney Metro. Canterbury Park Racecourse presents a unique opportunity along the corridor as an area which can contribute to providing housing and open space outcomes as part of a masterplanned development.”
Office of Sport calls for racecourse to be retained as open space
However, the NSW Government’s own Office of Sport lodged a submission to the revised strategy calling on the NSW Government to retain Canterbury racecourse as an open space reservoir for the corridor.
The NSW Office of Sport submission said: “It is our strong recommendation that this be zoned as RE1 (public recreation) land to allow various community sport and recreation demands to be met from the 100,000 additional people that will reside along this transport corridor.”
“Should the rezoning of the entire site to RE1 not be deemed viable by the Department of Planning and Environment, the Office of Sport recommends that opportunities that contain mixed land zones be explored and include the provision of community sport facilities.”
The Office of Sport submission attacks the methodology used to plan for open space under the urban renewal plan, saying it “lacks detail on current and forecast supply and demand of sporting facilities within the area”. It also criticises plans to try to use car parks and utility easements for open space.
The submission says that 25 to 50 playing fields should “typically” be provided to support the proposed growth in the corridor (of course no specific new sporting fields are proposed at this time).
In addition, a powerful group of environmental and community groups – co-ordinated by the Total Environment Centre (TEC’s) - have been formed to fight for open space alongside development.
The TEC’s Jeff Angel said the Sydenham to Bankstown Corridor is on track to be an urban planning disaster - with virtually no new open space will be created to ameliorate the building of over 30,000 new homes in one of the biggest housing development programs in Sydney's inner West – resulting in "major implications for present and future generations".
This Office of Sport recommendation and concerns from the Total Environment Centre shows the urgent need to not rezone the racecourse site and instead preserve it for open space.
If the ATC are not interested in using their site as open space, then it could be acquired by the NSW Government for active playing space for future generations. The acquisition of this land should be able to be achieved at a reasonably nominal fee, given the current zoning in place.
On 1 September 2017, Ethos Urban (formerly JBA) lodged a submission on behalf of the ATC, supporting the proposal to allow development on the racecourse and asking for an accelerated consideration of development on ‘surplus’ lands around the racecourse. The racecourse has lodged an application with the council to remove parking from allegedly 'surplus'lands around the racecourse. This parking is currently required to service night racing at the site.
Under Section 23 of the Australian Jockey and Sydney Turf Clubs Merger Act, the Australian Turf Club is prohibited from selling the entire racecourse before 2021, although sites not considered “necessary” for racing can be sold.
It looks as though Mirvac will seek to develop the racecourse. It already has been agreement with the ATC to develop the so-called ‘surplus’ lands around the racecourse, which are actually badly needed for carparking for night racing. [ix]
Mirvac’s plans for 28 storey towers at the Carrington Rd estate at Marrickville (also in the Sydenham to Bankstown corridor) have caused outrage.