6 March 2024

Develop racetrack as Canberra's first 'cool suburb', government told

| Ian Bushnell
racegoers at track

Thoroughbred Park in Lyneham could become much more than what Canberra Racing Club is proposing, says the North Canberra Community Council. Photo: Zen Photography.

The North Canberra Community Council wants the ACT Government to reclaim the 64-hectare Thoroughbred Park site and develop it for the community as a climate change-resilient, fully electric suburb that supports affordable and public housing options and active travel, and provides public spaces to meet, relax and play.

It is calling on the government to change the site’s land use from Broadacre to Medium Density Residential and run an open design competition aimed at maximising the benefits for the community.

The Canberra Racing Club is proposing to build about 3200 dwellings on 17 ha of the site but the NCCC said this was piecemeal development designed only to benefit the club, and there was potential for a much better-built outcome for residents of North Canberra.

This is not the first time the NCCC has made such calls and it follows a similar ACT Greens proposal in January.

The club has developed a masterplan for the site and is working with the government on how it could be implemented.

But NCCC president Jochen Zeil said the government should test a range of alternatives in a well-resourced, open and transparent way.

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“We don’t want to see a Territory Plan Variation prepared by the Racing Club and discussed behind closed doors with the Planning Authority and then presented to the Canberra community as a done deal,” he said.

“We want this site to become Canberra’s first ‘cool’ suburb designed to be energy efficient, affordable, climate sensitive and a beautiful, community-building environment to live in.

“Uniquely, Thoroughbred Park offers the opportunity to do this by improving – rather than destroying – ecological values.”

Calling horse racing a relic from the past, the NCCC said there was no evidence that the proposed change in partial land use would make the club sustainable.

With only 25 meetings a year and competition from online gambling and NSW racetracks, the business prospects would only worsen.

“Racing insiders suggest that the only way to improve viability is for the Canberra Racing Club to join with a Racing NSW club such as Queanbeyan,” the NCC said.

“The club’s poor financial situation is not a sound reason to grant them real estate development rights over 17 hectares of prime inner-Canberra land. It’s time for them to move again and partner with the racecourse in Queanbeyan.”

The racing industry will receive more than $40m from government from 2022-27 under the current Memorandum of Understanding.

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Planning Minister Chris Steel, who is on leave, said in January that more housing could be accommodated on the existing site and include the club.

“It’s not a binary choice,” he said.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has previously reassured the club that its future is secure at Thoroughbred Park.

Comment has been sought from the Canberra Racing Club.

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