Canberra could score its very own racetrack if the owners of Wakefield Park Raceway get their way.
The 2.2-kilometre tarmac circuit 10-minutes from Goulburn closed on Wednesday (31 August) after a stoush between the owners, nearby residents and the former Goulburn-Mulwaree Council ended in “unworkable” operating conditions.
Former operations manager Dean Chapman was one of 21 staff members to lose his job. He says the focus is on restarting Wakefield Park, but the racetrack owners, the Benalla Auto Club (BAC), are seriously investigating options over the border.
“We are still very, very passionate about investigating Canberra options,” Mr Chapman said.
He said the BAC has already spent $30,000 to $40,000 working out what’s possible.
“It’s not a case of, ‘hey, let’s go to Canberra and do a couple of dot drawings’. It’s an investment.”
In “positive” meetings with the ACT Government, Mr Chapman said two locations have been flagged as possibilities – near the Canberra Airport on the ACT’s east or west of the city, “around the Cotter and Uriarra areas”.
“North of the airport on the other side of Mount Majura is one proposed site, which protects Hackett, Watson and Ainslie by the mountain, so that works well,” he says.
Referencing the recent issues in Goulburn, he noted a proposed track “can’t be in the middle of a precinct where there are houses, because I know how that ends”.
The ACT Government confirmed representatives of Wakefield Park have met with Minister for Planning Mick Gentlemen on the matter, but denies any plans are underway to take it further.
“Community groups may have certain areas in mind for their activities, but the ACT Government needs to ensure the best possible use of community land before making any decisions,” a spokesperson said.
“The Wakefield Park experience demonstrates the challenges with operating a racing track. There are already a number of pressures on the ACT Government for land usage – primarily for housing, and this would have to be considered by any future motorsport venture in the ACT.”
The spokesperson also says no sites currently meet noise requirements and appropriate zoning.
At the moment, the ACT caters to motorsport at Fairbairn Park, which includes a hill-climb circuit, go-kart track, 500-metre clay speedway and skid pan.
Before that, a section of Pialligo Avenue was converted into a quarter-mile drag near the airport in 1979. It was a favourite meeting place for Canberra car enthusiasts for nearly two decades, but when the airport was privatised, the new owners protested having it on their boundary. It was closed in 1998.
Mr Chapman said none of the current facilities caters to members of the public the way a Canberra-based Wakefield Park equivalent would, but he admits the only way it will actually get up is if it’s wrapped up in a new entertainment precinct, similar to Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC) or Olympic Park in Sydney.
“Anything Canberra based will be a multi-purpose entertainment facility, so not limited for motorsport,” he said.
“It would be a place where you can have concerts, sports games, and more. Canberra is getting big and it’s going to continue to get bigger. We have to start attracting big-name acts, so a venue like this is exactly what we are missing.”
He said this would also share the cost between organisations interested in having a part to play.
But much like a city-based stadium, the ACT Government said there are no plans for a new entertainment precinct “at this stage”.
Mr Chapman also noted that there’s two to three years’ work ahead of them before any local sod is turned.
“But it’s got to start somewhere. And we look at who is making a name in motorsport at the moment, you’ll struggle to find someone who isn’t from Canberra.
“We certainly have the demand [and] people have been talking about bringing a purpose-built racetrack to Canberra for the past 20 years.”