‘Planning mess’: Outcry over Caulfield Racecourse redevelopment

By Cara Waters and Damien Ractliffe

February 1, 2022 — 12.01pm

The destruction of 100-year-old trees for the redevelopment of Caulfield Racecourse caused community outcry, but local authorities are unclear who bears ultimate responsibility.

Demolition work at Caulfield began on January 10 after a Christmas Eve amendment by Planning Minister Richard Wynne overruled heritage and council controls on the $570 million development of the racetrack and surrounding area.

One of the 42 trees destroyed was an Aleppo pine grown from the seed of Gallipoli’s Lone Pine. The works also involved the demolition of a toilet block and asphalt removal.

Heritage trees were cut down with chainsaws, prompting the interim protection order.

Work stopped this week after Heritage Victoria made an interim protection order on January 27 that means it must sign off on any work in the next four months.

Minister Wynne’s amendment to the planning scheme was requested by the Melbourne Racing Club. A spokesman said the club had done “everything by the book”, and had consulted on its plans with club members, the broader racing industry and the local council.

“We will also continue to do the right thing and work with Heritage Victoria on how we can proceed where appropriate,” the spokesman said.

The Caulfield Racecourse Reserve Trust said it was aware of the planned demolition work but did not realise it would start without any chance for public consultation.

Andrew Paxton, general manager of the Trust, said it was unusual that Minister Wynne approved a planning amendment scheme, which did not require public exhibition, on Christmas Eve.

 “The community of Glen Eira have an expectation of consultation and being engaged,” Mr Paxton said.

The local council said it was “blindsided” by the minister’s actions and the destruction of the trees. The Glen Eira council said it was yet to receive a response from Mr Wynne, confirming it was the Glen Eira Historical Society which applied for, and secured, the interim protection order after some trees had already been cut down.

The local council said it was unaware of the demolition work until it occurred, noting it lodged a request with the government on August 18 last year, seeking Mr Wynne authorise a heritage amendment to protect the racecourse.

“We’re a small little volunteer-run organisation, so not geared up to dealing with an entity like the Melbourne Racing Club,” volunteer Anne Kilpatrick said. “What we’ve come around to realising is that somebody needs to step up for this. In this instance, we thought well, no one else is, we will do that.”

Glen Eira Mayor Jim McGee said the council was “blindsided” by the demolition work. They’ve given the Melbourne Racing Club the go-ahead to do whatever they like, and unfortunately, they’ve started by destroying what I believe to be heritage buildings, destroying heritage trees and just going hell for leather,” he said. “It’s just another example of the Melbourne Racing Club, paying absolutely no attention to residents. They haven’t done it in 150 years, so I’m not surprised that they are not doing it today.”

In a letter to Mr Wynne, Cr McGee said the process for approving the redevelopment work on Christmas Eve appeared misleading and secretive.

“The community are rightly outraged about what’s happening at the racecourse,” he said.

Mr Wynne said the government had engaged extensively with the council, including as recently as last year, on its plans to redevelop the racecourse area into a “people friendly community recreation space”.

 “It beggars belief that the Glen Eira council is claiming to be surprised by the development occurring at Caulfield Racecourse Reserve – which the government has made significant investments in to unlock open space for the community,” he said.

However, many people, including MRC members, said they were surprised by the works.

“We have been racing at Caulfield for 150 years and most people would be very surprised that nothing at Caulfield has any sort of heritage protection,” MRC member Anthony Del Monaco said. “[The] question is why the club, the council or the government haven’t taken action earlier to get heritage protection for this much cherished state asset. and avoided the planning mess that has resulted.”

Member for Caulfield David Southwick MP said the community was consulted about the plans for the construction of buildings and new sports fields, but not about the demolition work or removal of heritage trees and buildings.

“They’ve gone so heavily in terms of consulting with the community about what could be in the middle of the racecourse, yet they’ve forgotten to actually look at protecting some of the heritage value around the actual precinct itself,” he said.

“There’s been no consultation with them, and the fact that the minister on the 24th – Christmas Eve – can effectively rubber stamp something and have these trees, including an Aleppo pine, destroyed I think is really upsetting.”

Mr Southwick said the way the redevelopment was handled had important implications for planning across the state.

“[If] you’ve got one minister, a planning minister, who can do whatever he likes in anyone’s backyard without any third-party appeal, then he’s a real concern for any Victorian right now,” he said.

Source: https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/planning-mess-outcry-over-caulfield-racecourse-redevelopment-20220131-p59si3.html


The MRC in the above quote, admits to ‘consulting’ with members, race goers, and council. Significantly, the one important omission is the community/residents of Glen Eira.

Also surprising is Council’s claim to have requested interim heritage protection in August last year. There is no formal council resolution that we can find to this effect. Why wasn’t this brought before a full council meeting in order to (1) make this request public, and (2) to ensure full ratification by councillors?

Will council now make public all of its communication(s) with the Minister, the MRC, and with the department? Did Council employ its own heritage advisors or did they rely on the MRC appointed advisors? Were councillors fully aware of any of these meetings, communications?

There are a myriad of questions that need answering from all – including the Minister, the MRC, the Trustees and Council.