Yesterday the Ombudsman tabled a report in Parliament — Investigation into three councils’ outsourcing of parking fine internal reviews. The report makes three recommendations for reform to the State Government and two recommendations for the three councils subject to the review — including Glen Eira City Council.
Glen Eira City Councillors have had a mixed response to this week’s announcement that the State Government has approved a long-term lease with Melbourne Racing Club (MRC), securing its tenure at Caulfield Racecourse Reserve for a further 65-year term.
Caulfield Racecourse Reserve is a 54 hectare parcel of Crown Land permanently reserved for three purposes: racing, a public park and recreation. The community has long advocated for a rebalancing of these three uses, concerned that this valuable community asset was being unreasonably used for private profit by the MRC.
Glen Eira Mayor Cr Tony Athanasopoulos welcomed the Government starting the clock on the five-year term for removal of training from the Reserve, but said Councillors still held grave concerns regarding the financial arrangements, which will see the MRC pay only $375,000 per annum in lease fees.
“Council appreciates the contribution that the racing industry makes to our community, however that should not come at a cost of restricted community access to community facilities,” he said.
“The MRC should be paying a fair and reasonable commercial rent for commercial activities that it undertakes on public land.
“Those fees should, in turn, be available to the newly established Trust to reinvest in community infrastructure and its maintenance — $375,000 per annum falls well short of a commercial rent and is only a small fraction of what the long-term funding needs of this site will be. In the past, this has been assessed by independent valuers as just over $1 million per annum.”
Cr Athanasopoulos said Council acknowledges the Andrews’ State Government plans to ‘top up’ this amount by a further $250,000 per annum for the next four years, however it is currently unclear how the new Trust is expected to remain financially sustainable while investing in new infrastructure development and its subsequent maintenance.
“The lease arrangements with the MRC include the Guineas Car Park which could have been a source of future income for the Trust,” he said.
Cr Athanasopoulos said Council also denounced other aspects of the deal which include provisions to facilitate a second track, increased parking in the centre of the racecourse, and a potential doubling of the number of race meets.
“These issues all have the potential to negatively impact the future use of the Reserve and the amenity of the local community” he said.
“Council calls on all parties in the lead-up to the 2018 State Election to commit to the full implementation of the recommendations of the Bi-Partisan Working Group’s report and a long-term funding stream for Caulfield Racecourse Reserve to ensure that future community and sporting assets can be developed and maintained to a high standard.
“The $4.25 million commitment from the Opposition is a good start, however identifying a plan for long-term financial sustainability should be the priority.”