Wakefield Park Raceway has made history after a groundswell movement resulted in the biggest petition ever recorded in NSW.
Between 7 and 28 October, up to 28,950 NSW residents signed the online “Save Wakefield Park” petition, begging the NSW Government to reverse the effects of a court ruling that forced the 2.2-kilometre tarmac racetrack near Goulburn to close on 31 August, 2022.
It was presented to the Parliament of NSW on Tuesday, 8 November.
This figure beats the previous record of 22,074 signatures, when there were was a clarion call for the NSW Government to can a decision to replace the heritage-style Freshwater Manly ferries.
In a now well-published saga, the owner of Wakefield Park, Benalla Auto Club (BAC), lodged a development application with the former Goulburn Mulwaree council in September 2020. The council initially refused but then granted it in July 2021, provided the racetrack was operational no more than four days per month. This was in response to noise complaints.
BAC judged these conditions unworkable and closed the track. But that was far from the end.
“Myriad supporters”, made up of motorsport participants, officials, volunteers, spectators and enthusiasts – as well as local business owners and community groups – from across NSW, the ACT and Australia rallied together under the banner of “Save Wakefield Park”.
The movement lodged a petition with the NSW Government on 7 October, championed by Labor’s Shadow Minister for Sport, Julia Finn.
It stated that the NSW Land and Environment Court’s ruling had “devastated motorsport enthusiasts, Goulburn Mulwaree business owners and the broader community who consider WPR the lifeblood of Goulburn”.
It asked the Government, especially Minister for Planning Anthony Roberts, to use his powers to “identify suitable, long-term options to reinstate and protect Wakefield Park’s future as a viable motor-racing circuit … as soon as possible”.
It attracted thousands of signatures within days.
On Tuesday, Members of Parliament were forwarded a briefing document that included an economic impact review and statements from individuals, businesses, clubs and community organisations in the area.
Mark and Lee Reid have been close neighbours of the track since 1997.
“Having lived adjacent to Wakefield Park for nearly 20 years, I find it disturbing anyone would be selfish enough to complain about the noise levels,” Mark said.
Former Wakefield Park employee Robyn Ryan describes it as one of the most horrendous events during her 18 years in Goulburn.
“Wakefield Park was more than just a job to me – it was my family. It breaks my heart.”
The driver-training company Track Day Club was based at Wakefield Park and is now facing no other option but to close.
“No other racetrack facility in NSW has the visibility and access of Wakefield Park,” director Yvette Kinkade said.
An estimated 7330 people descended on Goulburn for the Australian Superbike Championship 2022 between 20 and 24 April. According to the economic impact review in the document, these four days contributed a total of $2,581,949 to the Goulburn Mulwaree region.
This figure includes $897,750 for accommodation, $1,132,380 for meals and $551,819 for other logistics such as travel and event fees.
Until Wakefield Park’s closure, the Bakehouse Motel welcomed more than 300 guests in 2022, translating to about $20,000 of revenue.
“We are only one business and this is only the money spent on accommodation – all these guests also spent money in other local businesses, for food and fuel, along with personal shopping,” manager Julie Parsons said.
“The loss has had a devastating impact on the town as a whole.”
Racing events and clubs including the NSW Motor Racing Championship, Motorcycle Racing Club of NSW, Historic Sports and Racing Car Association of NSW, Australian National Truck Racing Organisation (ANTRO), Golden Era Auto Racing Club and Superkart Club of NSW have all contributed statements too, bemoaning the loss.
Avid member of the Save Wakefield Park movement, registered planner Eddie Swatt, describes the issue as one that will head to the NSW state election in March 2023 as a “state issue”.
“In NSW, we now only have one racetrack for eight million people – Sydney Motorsport Park – while other states such as Queensland and Victoria are far better equipped,” he says.
Eddie says the petition was deliberately vague, “to keep options open”, but has several key goals for the NSW Planning Minister to address.
These include a consistent approach to noise regulations in NSW, an independent inquiry into the development application process, government subsidisation of the owners so they can open the track immediately, while a more permanent solution is found, and changes to relevant planning legislation to secure Wakefield Park’s place as a motorsport facility.
“Our primary purpose is to get that racetrack back,” he says.
“We don’t care who runs it or who gets into government, as long as Goulburn gets it back.”
Minister for Planning Anthony Roberts must respond to the petition by 13 December, 2022. A date for debate will then be decided.