It is quite possible that the Australian Turf Club or any future owner of Canterbury may find they no longer need it as a Racing asset and want to dispose of it. The big question and a likely spirited debate to follow is what should become of Canterbury Park if it isnt needed as a Racecourse any longer?
While those with vested interests in the property development world will no doubt salivate at the possibility of such a huge new greenfield site to get stuck into building on, and the club itself will likely find the most lucrative path will probably be high density residential development, it is worth noting that the Australian Turf Club is a not for profit organization in which proceeds earned should go back into maintaining and upgrading the assets they have on their books, so one has to query what need will they have for the hundreds of millions of dollars they could receive by following that path and what of the $174 million of public money already donated to the ATC to ensure the future of Canterbury Park in 2010? Should they not be obliged to give some or all of it back to the people of NSW if they find it surplus to requirements?
So what are the options and benefits if this land were not developed in the most profitable way possible? Lets have a look.
What does Canterbury Park offer now ?
Canterbury is 35 hectares of open recreation space, zoned as “private recreation”. While it is of great joy to many who enjoy race spectating and a flutter on the ponies, it is many other things to many people in the Canterbury region besides that.
1. Popular Night Racing events.
The introduction of Summer Night Racing to Canterbury in the late 1990’s proved a huge success for the STC (now ATC) and continues to this day. It has become somewhat more of a carnival atmosphere with food trucks, free rides for the kids, picnic areas, outdoor dining, and entertainment etc. Many local and not so local families flock down on the warm summer nights with crowds reported in excess of 8000 people. While the spectacle of the horses thundering home over the finish line as a backdrop is quite dramatic and adds to the atmosphere, there is so much going on that one might not even notice that. It has been said of Friday night racing “it is the best night out anywhere in Sydney!” The local community would lose much if that were taken away.
2. Valuable recreation space already
While we know the land that is Canterbury Park is held privately by the ATC, and most of it is off limits to the general public most of the time, a large amount that isnt inside the gates of the racecourse proper is actually open to the public and regularly used as recreation space. On any afternoon or weekend you will see the large car-parking and horse-float areas are being well used by locals walking dogs, playing sport, kids riding bikes, flying kites etc. While there are many other parks in the area , they are more sporting grounds which are reserved for games and training activities by the many local sporting clubs, so these grassy car-parks are excellent for the casual users and they would be very much missed.
2. Wildlife protection zone!
One may not first think of a Sydney racecourse as a wildlife protect zone, but the anecdotal evidence is there to suggest may local species of wildlife use the quite times in Canterbury park to roost, rest, feed and procreate. The Park host a large freshwater lake system in the centre, many local residents and environment groups have noted the flocks of birds around the lakes, the long neck turtles making their way from the lakes to feed near the river, Blue tongue lizards and many other species (including reports of the very endangered Green and Golden Bell frogs and even an Echidna spotted near there recently) exist in the fenced wetland areas well away from any interference from man or his pets.
3. Flood protection and storm-water filter to the Cooks river.
Another not so obvious benefit of Canterbury Park currently is that it helps prevent a huge amount of storm-water from running directly into cooks river and compounding any possible flooding downstream. The geography is such that it is a mostly flat piece of land at the bottom of a bowl shaped parcel of higher land in Ashbury thru to Canterbury that sits above and around it. In heavy rainfall events the water simply runs into the large open-space and sinks into the ground rather than running over it as it would if the area were hard-surfaced ie in the case of any future building development.
4. Carbon sink, CO2 & pollution filter.
Canterbury, like so many inner city suburbs is surrounded and criss-crossed by many congested main roads, add to that the huge amount of densification that has happened recently, especially in the Canterbury municipality, which means lots and lots of pollution pumped into the air each day. A benefit of such a large open grassed space is to help function as a filter and offset for all of this, it is well know that plants will convert CO2 to oxygen, so every little bits helps and this is 35 hectares of it !
It is not well know that Canterbury Park is already a state Heritage item, Heritage listed in 2002, it is recognised as a significant contributor to the history and development of the Canterbury and surrounding area as well as to the history of Thoroughbred racing in Sydney since its beginnings in about the mid-1850’s. The city of Canterbury was built on the backs of the people who settled in the area mainly to service the Racecourse industry, while they and their businesses have mostly moved on, the Racecourse is a strong reminder of our beginnings.
What else could Canterbury Park offer us in the future ?
Enough said about what we would lose if it were developed into hard built forms, but what then are alternatives that Canterbury Park could offer the local community and people of Sydney in general if only for want of a bit of imagination and willingness of the current owners not to fall prey to those dollar signs ?
Option 1: Sporting ground and Stadium
With a ready made grandstand already in place, flat well drained grass-laid grounds within, fencing, parking, gates and crowd management already in place, it would make sense that an obvious future use would simply be another type of sporting fixture. Retro-fitting Canterbury park would be far less expensive that building and designing a new ground and stadium and there are no such large capacity, well equipped stadiums in the near vicinity to compare. Another advantage will be that the racecourse has more than enough space for any type of sporting use and will in fact have land surplus along the Cooks riverfront that could provide a nice recreation space or habitat on the rivers edge as well. An obvious custodian in this case would be the Department of Sports and Recreation who are always on the search for more space to promote sports and healthy living in the urban landscape.
Option 2 : Recreation space and natural habitat
Much has been written and said about the need for more open-space in Sydney to support our growing populations, and no more so than in the Canterbury district. Current population projections indicate Canterbury will need to acquire approx. 50% more open-space to maintain the same open space per head of population ratio by 2041 according to the Department of Planning and Environment Population Projections, 2019. Canterbury Park in fact makes up over 10% of the total recreation space in all of the former Canterbury Municipality and 21% of that of the Eastern Ward! (The old Canterbury Municipal Council area has about 341 hectares of parkland, recreation space and sporting fields – Canterbury Open space strategy 2017). Canterbury Bankstown City Council have also identified the need for more open-space in their city and in fact earmarked Canterbury Park as a strategic source of open-space in their “Connective City 2036 strategy” that should be tapped if the ATC decide to walk away.
Canterbury Park at 35 Hectares is big enough to potentially become what is refereed to as a “Regional Park“. Regional Parks are more than just local recreation reserves, they are coveted for their size and value to the recreation needs of not just the local community but everyone in the greater region, in this case Sydney. Well known examples are Centennial Park, Sydney Park, Parramatta Parklands etc which offer something really unique and special and actually attract visitors from all over Sydney to help drive the local economies of those regions. The opportunityto add to that list dont come along very often !
It is worth noting that the Sate government has a vehicle to do just that called the “Office of Strategic lands“. Their job is simply to try to aquire through buy-back, strategically important land from private hands for the benefit of the people of NSW, again think Sydney Park and Western Sydney Parklands to name a few projects they have been responsible for. Although, according to their recent Audit Report they are currently underfunded and the list of land they have identified for acquisition is already long and waiting funding to complete, it would take a long long time for the Office to raise enough money to purchase Canterbury Park at anything near true market value unfortunately.
Option 3: Other, less imposing forms of non-residential development
A piece of open-space is such a blank canvas that the possibilities are endless, many developments could provide both a benefit to the greater community and leave space for habitat, recreating, commerce etc . Over the years there has been talk of university campuses, schools, inner city farms, community gardens ie farm to the plate type of experiences, mixed spaces like Sydney Olympic park, Entertainment quarter etc. While it will be tempting to overbuild with any one of these project, if planned well could provide both objectives of open-space, community benefit and a commercial asset. A well planned mixed use solution can bring people to Canterbury, drive local business , make our city a more desirable place to be and live and be a real asset to the community. The risk with this type of solution however is high because a poorly designed overbuilt solution could easily be a detriment that cant simply be undone and hence only adds to the problems that dense inner urban living creates.
Other ideas ? Write to us to tell us your ideas for the future if this land became available, canterburyRAG@gmail.com