According to the book “THE ESSENTIAL CLUB a history of the Sydney Turf Club 1943-2011” by Gary Lester, there has been much discussion at Boardroom level about the possibility of offloading Canterbury Park in one form or another since about the beginning of the new millennium. After the year 2000, the Canterbury course was not pulling in the punters the way it once did and even losing money while the other STC owned course, Rosehill racecourse became the club’s premier course, hosting the world-rated Golden Slipper race. The Thoroughbred Racing Board (now known as Racing NSW) released a draft strategic plan in 2002 and among its many proposals was a suggestion that NSW race clubs consider mergers and rid themselves of “under-utilised assets” e.g. Canterbury Park.
The Board was divided, those wanting to save the club came up with a plan to build state-of-the-art recreational complex, with a golf driving range and practice facility in the infield, a sports club for members with a gymnasium, may even a hotel and/or a registered club.
cafes and bars. Mainly due to the GFC hitting hard in 2008, this plan was never realised.
A later report by Ernst and Young to the state government in 2009 had recommended a merger between the STC (owners of Canterbury and Rosehill racecourses) and the AJC (Randwick and Warwick Farm), including the sale of the Canterbury racecourse.
So why hasn’t the ATC sold Canterbury already ?
The simple answer is it couldn’t, not until recently anyway.
Just after that Ernst and Young report, the State Labor government stepped in to save it, it brokered the deal between the two clubs by way of a $174 million cash incentive to pay off the AJC’s debts and legislated a Moratorium against any asset sales for 10 years thereafter. Expiring at the end of 2020.
So what is the evidence then that the ATC may be plotting to sell Canterbury Park to developers now that the Moratorium has expired ?
The most obvious evidence is the deal made with Mirvac to develop the 12,800sqm Princess St car-parks into residential apartments. The plan has been bandied around for a good while, but first made public in the ATC Annual report 2017 where it reports having received $8 million from Mirvac for the exclusive contract and borrowed a further $10 million from Westpac for the project. The first step of this plan has already been realised after lodging an application with CB City Council to request lifting of the condition restricting its use to car-parking only (CB City Council DA-8910/1997B).
Another red herring a few years ago in 2014 was the ATC’s application to Parliament requesting relaxation of the 10 year Moratorium protecting racecourse property from being sold (as part of the STC and AJC merger ACT 2010). Lodged to Parliament as the “ Three Year Statutory Review of the Australian Jockey and Sydney Turf Clubs Merger Act 2070“, the submission by the ATC called for an early termination of the Moratorium restriction against selling assets and property. The submission itself is not available to the public, but media reports a section ominously entitled “The Disposal of Canterbury Park Racecourse and Rosehill Gardens Racecourse racing infrastructure”. The other major submission received was that of the NSW Breeders Association asking for the Moratorium to be retained. The Review panel recommended to defer the application pending further consultation and preferably consensus among the Racing industry stakeholders. In other words the Moratorium was kept in place, phew !
A later submission by JBA (now called Ethos Urban) prepared on behalf of the ATC for consideration to the Department of Planning in 2016 spills the beans on grand plans by the ATC to develop at least 3 large parcels of lands around Canterbury Park which are apparently “surplus” to requirements. The report says “The ATC owned land, including the racecourse itself has an area of approximately 35ha. The land that is surplus to the ATCs operational requirements and proposed for redevelopment as part of this strategy has an area of approximately 6.5ha.” and ” the site has the ability to support medium and high density residential” . See photo
Those in the know will tell you that the two things that most secure Canterbury Park against being closed are the success of the Summer Night Racing program with crowd attendances increasing year on year and the very essential Quarantine and International Horse Centre at Canterbury Park.
However the future of both of those things at Canterbury is not a certainty. The ATC is in the process of bringing a Night Racing program to Randwick . While the planning is still in the making , the project has been granted a “State Significant” status meaning next to nothing can stop it. One can only questions why the installation of some lights at an inner city racecourse warrants to be made a “State Significant” project, ie up there with major motorway constructions, railways and other essential infrastructure for the people of NSW!? Unfortunately for Canterbury, the ATC having two night racing programs each weekend might be one too many, add to that a statement made in the 2014 Racing NSW Strategic Plan tells us where their thinking was in relation to Night Racing. Under the section heading “Feasibility of Night Racing” , it says “….A re-assessment of the feasibility of night racing should reconsider the Metropolitan venue that is best suited to night racing. Royal Randwick now boasts revamped customer facilities and better access for crowds from the CBD and is a logical starting point for a review of night racing.”
So, if Night Racing might be relocated from Canterbury, that only leaves the newly fitted International Horse and Equine Quarantine Centre to keep Canterbury racecourse active. Canterbury is perfectly situated for the quarantine centre being closer to the Airport than many other of Racing NSW property and not too far from either Randwick or Rosehill, the two courses most likely to race international horses. However, when you think about it, a Quarantine Centre doesn’t need a racecourse attached to it to function ? So what is the possibility that the rest of the racecourse could be developed except the Quarantine section, well quite possible except that the Quarantine section is the closest section to Canterbury Town centre, the most likely section to be granted a very lucrative “High Density” zoning given many other HD buildings are in that vicinity being much closer to the Canterbury train station and town centre. However leaving the quarantine in place to develop the rest of the Racecourse would effectively cut off any large scale development from the town centre proper – so Planning outcomes could be very poor.
Location of Canterbury International Equine and Quarantine Centre in proximity to the train station and Canterbury Town centre.