20 March 2023

New lease on life or 'freaking disaster'? Goulburn's Wakefield Park racetrack sold

| James Coleman
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Quiet tarmac at Wakefield Park Raceway. Photo: Wakefield Park Raceway, Facebook.

Wakefield Park Raceway has been sold – news that seems to have caught everyone off-guard.

The 2.2-kilometre tarmac circuit near Goulburn has been closed indefinitely since 1 September 2022 after a NSW Land and Environment Court ruling imposed tighter noise restrictions.

These effectively limited Wakefield Park to four days of operation per month and prompted an outcry from not only the Victoria-based Benalla Auto Club – which owned the racetrack – but also local residents, business owners and motorsport representatives.

A petition in November 2022 to revisit the court ruling became the biggest in NSW Parliament history, attracting 28,950 signatures.

In the lead-up to the state election, politicians on all sides have promised to bring motorsports back to Goulburn, with Labor committing $1 million for the task if elected.

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On Tuesday (14 March), general manager Stephen Whyte announced Wakefield Park had been sold to Steve Shelley, the owner of Pheasant Wood Circuit in Marulan.

“Today is a significant moment for the future of Wakefield Park,” Mr Whyte said.

“With Steve and his team having significant experience in motorsport facility management and event management, I couldn’t think of anyone better to be the custodian of Wakefield Park Raceway.”

Pheasant Wood Circuit is located 1.5 hours from Sydney and Canberra, east of Goulburn. It opened in 2009 as the Marulan Driver Training Centre, designed to offer “a broad range of driving options on both dirt and bitumen”, according to the website.

Steve Shelley bought it in 2016 and set about “dramatically” upgrading it to “world-class standards in both track layout, safety and amenities”.

Pheasants Wood Circuit

Pheasants Wood Circuit. Photo: Pheasants Wood Circuit, Facebook.

“I am passionate about Wakefield Park and have competed there on many occasions,” Mr Shelley said.

“I look forward to working closely with the neighbours of Wakefield Park and the Goulburn Mulwaree Shire Council when planning and securing the future of Wakefield, and especially avoiding any repeat of mistakes made in the past.”

However, not everyone is sold. A source close to the Benalla Auto Club, who wishes to remain nameless, told Region the decision to sell “such a large asset” was not passed by other members of the club first.

“This is a freaking disaster,” the source said.

“It is extremely serious from a governance point of view, and woe betide a committee which sells an asset without explaining themselves to their members.”

The source attributed the sale to laziness on the part of the Benalla Auto Club.

“A can’t-be-bothered-dealing-with-this-anymore attitude.”

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In his statement to media, Mr Whyte attributed the deal to the involvement and “passion” of local Liberal member Wendy Tuckerman. He proclaimed it a saving move for the embattled racetrack.

“Throughout this whole process, the support of Wendy … has given us some positive direction and clear indication of the obvious support from the government for the future of the raceway,” he said.

But up to this point, the Save Wakefield Park group has said the politicians to give them the most support are Labor and One Nation.

“Three of the four parties have committed to a process that will get Wakefield Park open,” the source said.

“The Liberals are the party that has not said anything.”

In January, NSW Labor leader Chris Minns unveiled a $1-million plan to fund noise-mitigation works at Wakefield Park. On top of this, an elected Labor government promised to have the Department of Planning work with Goulburn Mulwaree Council and the Office of Sport to re-open the track and prepare a ‘Motorsports Strategy’ to protect such venues into the future.

Michael Pilbrow outside the office of Wendy Tuckerman

NSW Labor Candidate for Goulburn Michael Pilbrow delivering an invitation to a public debate to Liberal member Wendy Tuckerman. Photo: NSW Labor.

Save Wakefield Park and Motorsports Australia have welcomed the commitment, but Wendy Tuckerman described it as a “Band-Aid fix”.

“Labor has not consulted the committee and management,” she told Region in January 2023.

“As the local member, I’m working on a plan to fix the noise issue, working on a plan to get the facility open, and working on a plan to protect the facility into the future.”

NSW Labor candidate for Goulburn Michael Pilbrow has described the sale announcement as a “step in the right direction” and invited Ms Tuckerman to a public debate on the future plans for Wakefield Park.

“Whatever the outcome of this election, let’s provide a clear picture to voters of what concrete actions we will take and provide them the opportunity to make up their mind on which plan they support,” he said.

“It remains unclear whether the Liberal Government intends to do everything in its power to re-open Wakefield Park.”

Original Article published by James Coleman on Riotact.

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