Secret plans to develop Caulfield and Sandown race courses

by Duncan Hughes

Confidential plans for multi-billion dollar residential, commercial and retail property developments at Caulfield and Sandown race courses are being considered by the Victorian State Government.

The ‘master plans’, which have been commissioned by the Melbourne Racing Club, one of the nation’s most powerful sporting bodies, are expected to involve joint ventures with development and property companies to design, build and run the projects.

But the plans are likely to become another flashpoint between the MRC, state government and some councils about the impact of high density developments on local communities and public amenities.

Sandown Park, about 30 kilometres south-east of Melbourne, is a 112-hectare horse and car racing track located in a major growth and transport hub that is fully-owned by the MRC, a not-for-profit organisation.


The park is in the electorate of Premier Daniel Andrews.

The MRC also owns more than 152,000 square metres of land surrounding the Caulfield Race Track, 13 kilometres south-east of central Melbourne, in addition to leased stable and training areas within the race course.

It is already undertaking a controversial $1 billion development opposite the entrance to the racecourse and close to a railway station that has been rezoned from a car park to 1200 apartments, 10,000 square metres of office space and 15,000 square metres of retail space.

“We are aiming to develop a plan for land-use, upgrades and development for the next 15-20 years,” said Josh Blanksby, general manager of the MRC, about the redevelopment plans.

Mr Blanksby said the racing club was looking at the “best ways to utilise its strong assets”, which in addition to hosting meetings was expanding into other forms of entertainment, gaming and property development.

He said no decision has been made.

State government officials have been briefed about the proposals devised by Hassall, a global consultancy and architecture group.

But the MRC, which leases the Crown Land occupied by Caulfield Race Course, is under fire from the local Glen Eira Council and landlord, Caulfield Racecourse Reserve Trust, for failing to consult.

“It is totally inappropriate that the tenant is proposing a master plan for what is probably one of the biggest development sites of prime inner-Melbourne land,” said Jim Magee, a former racecourse trustee and current mayor of Glen Eira, the local council for the area surrounding the course.

Mr Blanksby said the council was approached but declined to comment.

The trust, which is chaired by Greg Sword, former national president of the Australian Labor Party, has launched a separate ‘master plan’ into the use of the 54-hectare site that is legally meant to be divided between public recreation, a public park and the racecourse.

“The balance is a little skewed,” Mr Sword told a local community last week about the MRC’s influence over the use of the site.

The business of running racing clubs has been rapidly evolving in recent years from hosting race days into a multi-billion entertainment, gaming, land development and hotel business.

In the past four years MRC’s revenues from course admissions have remained static around $1.5 million as gaming revenue more than doubled to $34 million and telecasting rights rose 20 per cent to more than $9 million.

Victoria’s Attorney-General and Racing Minister Martin Pakula is among those reviewing the plans. Developments involving Caulfield Racecourse will also need the approval of the board of trustees, which has six council appointed members, six MRC members and three independents.

It is 12 months this week since the state’s auditor-general recommended full disclosure of the MRC’s benefits from the course, criticised the state government’s oversight and recommended improved disclosure of finances, performance and management of ‘perceived conflicts of interest’ in the course’s management.
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