Circuit feature Mark Walker August 4, 2022 (Comments off) (308)

ANALYSIS: Sandown Raceway Development Latest

Between green papers and planning permissions, there is a reasonable amount to currently unpack at Sandown Raceway. So here goes…

Firstly, the venue’s owner, the Melbourne Racing Club (MRC) recently applied to the local council seeking rezoning permission to convert the storied Melbourne venue into 7,500 dwellings for 16,000 residents.

At the end of March, the City of Greater Dandenong published the plans for the site as developed by the MRC, featuring a mix of apartment towers, townhouses, office buildings, plus other commercial outlets like restaurants and retail.

Currently, the venue is zoned for special use, with permission being sought to switch this to become largely focused on residential blocks.

Importantly, if approved in its current form, it would pave the way for 12-storey buildings in the town centre zone, and up to six storeys in other sections, a reasonable departure from the existing structures in the surrounding neighbourhood.

Included in the mix are 375 dwellings tabbed for affordable housing.

Other development features would include a primary school, early education facilities, health care services and an indoor sports centre.

The submitted plans also called for the widening of the adjacent Corrigan Road (which runs parallel to the current back straight), and an upgrade of its intersection with the Princes Highway, while the watercourse that runs through the facility would be remodelled, with suitable flood mitigation put in place.

Core to the redevelopment is seven hectares of reserves and sporting fields (approximately 14 per cent of the site), with the project set to be split into four stages over a 15 to 20-year horizon.

In preparing the amendment proposal, the MRC has engaged with the Victorian Planning Authority (VPA), DELWP, Department of Education, Department of Transport, Melbourne Water, the EPA and South East Water.


Renderings from the zoning application of the prospective new-look Sandown community.

Why?

Put bluntly, the block has been valued in the realm of $700 million, which is significant in any books, especially for the MRC, as it seeks to invest in its more central Caufield venue, which has been host to the club’s key events in recent decades and is set to receive a second track on the inside of its existing course to further expand on its utility.

Coincidentally, Caufield has also recently announced a $570 million overall revamp to its facility.

What makes Sandown prime real estate is that it is a massive block – it covers 112.25 hectares, it is smack bang in central suburbia, has direct access to the Dandenong Road arterial to the north, and to the south is the main Pakenham and Cranbourne train lines, offering efficient transfers to the city and beyond.

Furthermore, the site has been earmarked as a key urban renewal site, as detailed in the Plan Melbourne 2017-2050 policy, which was prepared by the VPA.

All told, estimates have the entire development project valued at $3.5 billion, which is a considerable boost for construction in the state, with no other project of this scale likely ever to be made available in the already highly developed south-east corridor of the city again.

We have reported here previously on The Race Torque that the MRC has claimed that the venue is losing $5 million a year.

From a horse racing gambling perspective, meets at Sandown attract six per cent less than those at Caulfield, and attendees tend to stay away from the venue, with the aging facilities and the extra travel time noted as reasons.

The venue hosts 35 horse racing events annually, although the bulk of these are lower-profile midweek fixtures, with it particularly useful in the wintertime, as the hardy track surface takes wear and tear off the other main metropolitan venues.

When training at nearby Caulfield was discontinued, Sandown was not presented as an alternative, a source of irritation for some within the industry, while the prospective second Caufield track will allow it to pick up events if Sandown were to close.

From a motorsport perspective, the use of Sandown Raceway is heavily restricted.

Five major race meetings are allowed each year, consisting of the Supercars round, the Shannons Motorsport Australia Championships, Historic Sandown, and a pair of Vic State Race meets, with the venue also used by car clubs and for driver training that produce lower noise levels.

The MRC has been feeling out plans for the future of Sandown dating back to 2015, which were made public in late 2017, with various issues floating in the public domain since.


What will remain?

The currently presented plans show that the race circuit’s main straight will be aligned with the Town Centre’s main boulevard, and the horse racing layout will be replicated in the form of a recreation path.

One feature that is set to be a fixture for the long haul is the grandstand, which was Heritage Listed in 2019.

However, within a clear 3.6km line of sight from the top of Sandown’s grandstand sits a prime example of its own future possibilities.

Waverley Park’s similarly Heritage Listed Sir Kenneth Luke Stand now sits amidst a new housing development, and has been fitted out with a range of modern commercial tenants.

From the perspective of the MRC, the zoning application represents the biggest potential use of the site that could be achieved, not necessarily the final outcome that will be settled upon.

Around the country, most of the major metropolitan horse racing facilities have cashed in, or are in the process of transforming vacant surrounding space into hybrid models, with residential towers built adjacent to the different racecourses.

However, this example of retaining the horse facilities and adding residential structures is not a feature of the current proposal.

For motorsport, the compatibility of high-density housing and a racetrack would be a tough sell, with the land currently occupied by the circuit primed for development if a hybrid path were to be ultimately taken.


The reaction

“There are many iterations in between, eventually everyone will sit down and work out the best use of the site. There are other options.

“That’s just how applications are framed. People should not be jumping up and down and saying “that’s it.”

“From a planning point of view, they (council) want to know the most you could do on this land. If you want to do less, that’s up to you, you’re the landowner.”

John Blanksby, MRC Chief Executive to RSN

“No decision on Sandown’s future will be made until after an extensive consultation process has been undertaken.

“Any future decision that may be undertaken by MRC and Racing Victoria in relation to Sandown will be done in the best interests of the broader racing industry, MRC members and the local community.”

MRC statement

From the perspective of the council, it isn’t necessarily endorsing the proposal, but more going through a matter of process.

“Most of us (councillors) feel it’s too dense, too much impact on infrastructure but that the Planning Minister can just step in.

“If we voted it down, it would be extremely unlikely that the Planning Minister will not OK it.

“I think this is going to be a horrendous thing all the way through.

“What’s concerning for me is the density. (MRC) is using this to finance the Caulfield site – which is more luxurious and a less dense development.”

Rhonda Garad, Greater Dandenong Councillor to the Star Journal

“This is not an approval. We just want to hear from people that use the streets and how it will affect their lives.

“There’s people who are upset about it. And there’s other people thinking it’s an opportunity to buy a new home.

“I’m hearing more negative than positive (feedback).”

Jim Memeti, Greater Dandenong Mayor to the Star Journal

There has been an obvious outcry from motorsport fans, but by the same token, it is also a significant potential loss for the thoroughbred industry.

The wide sweeping layout, great turf cover and cambered turns are a favourite amongst trainers and jockeys, with the facility a point of difference from the other venues in the city, such as Caulfield, Moonee Valley and Flemington.

Horse racing insiders are also keen to point out the philosophical issues with the MRC selling an asset, only to spend the proceeds on improvements to its leased venue at Caufield.

“You can only sell the farm once,” has been a common catchcry.

One influence working against the future prospects of horse racing at Sandown is the ongoing development push at nearby regional tracks, such as Cranbourne and Pakenham, which both have assembled extensive training facilities, while a dedicated quarantine hub was set up in Werribee in 2010, a task once handled by Sandown.

As an aside, it has been theorised that a portion of funds from a Sandown sale would help create a centralised training hub or new track north of Tullamarine Airport on land recently acquired by Racing Victoria, which would better serve the needs of the remaining venues across the state.


What next?

Essentially, the news that circulated at the end of March was a simple administrative step, with the final say in the matter coming down to the MRC and its members, of which no doubt some will feel strongly about keeping Sandown alive.

Due to the scope of the zoning approval, the decision regarding zoning will ultimately go to the state Minister for Planning, however, the plans will first be exhibited for community consultation and feedback.

For the council, the next step will be to assess any proposed amendments to the planning scheme, with the benefit of being informed by stakeholders, the community submissions and input from other statutory bodies.

The decision flow chart then will see a council decision on whether to request the Minster for Planning to appoint a Planning Panel, then decide on whether to adopt, abandon or reject the Panel’s recommendations or amendments, before the Minster ultimately decides whether to rezone the land.

Any final decisions on the matter are not expected for at least 12-18 months, with the pending state election likely to drag out the process further.

The MRC and Racing Victoria are also consulting with industry participants and their respective members over the implications of any move.

Clearly, one key user group that doesn’t appear to have a seat at the table is motorsport, with little outward official comment emanating from interested industry bodies.


Victorian Racing Infrastructure Green Paper

Subsequent to the above zoning application, Racing Victoria has released a green paper on the state of its facilities through 2032, painting a somewhat longer prospective timeline for Sandown.

Outside of any factors internal to the venue, it is set to pick up slack from December 2022 through to May 2023 with the second track being constructed at Caufield, while it will also provide additional coverage when Moonee Valley is reconstructed between November 2025 and September 2027.

With a focus on Sandown, the document reads:

An application has been made by the MRC to the City of Greater Dandenong for the rezoning of Sandown Racecourse. This rezoning process, which may take several years to conclude, does not mean that the track will be closed or sold in the next 10 years, but rather provides the MRC, its members, and the wider Victorian Thoroughbred Racing Industry (VTRI) with an understanding of the future options available for Sandown.

 

Pending the outcomes of the rezoning process, any decision on the future of Sandown must be endorsed by RV and MRC members.  RV will ensure that any decision on Sandown is made in the best overall interests of the VTRI. It is acknowledged that many options are being considered for Sandown, including both the partial redevelopment of the Racecourse that allows for the continuation of racing and the sale of the entire block of land which would see racing cease at the venue.

 

It is accepted that the land occupied by Sandown Racecourse has significant commercial value if rezoned and that RV and the MRC will need to consider whether reinvestment of the proceeds of any sale can place the VTRI in a better position. 

 

It is expected that Sandown, irrespective of the decisions made by the MRC, its members and RV in the best overall interests of the VTRI, will still be conducting race meetings in 2027 at a minimum.

Going through this planning process is an expensive and timely exercise – there has to be a reasonable amount of intent behind the actions of the MRC.

While the facility is likely to continue on for the foreseeable future, there are no guarantees locked in, especially for motorsport.

Regardless of the ultimate timeline for Sandown, there are some key events on the horizon for the venue, namely a state championship meet next weekend, followed by the Supercars the weekend after, the Shannons Motorsport Australia Championships on September 16-18, with the Historic event slated for November 4-6.

If you love watching motorsport at Sandown, there is value in heading along to the above.

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