Residents of the suburbs surrounding the former Cheltenham Park Racecourse, Woodville, Woodville Gardens, Finsbury, Alberton and Cheltenham advocated that the race course could be preserved and incorporated into the development of a wetland green space.
The Cheltenham Park Residents Association (CPRA) has campaigned to save the Cheltenham Park Racecourse, not only on behalf of its 61 members, but also on behalf of its affiliated groups and many supporters in the wider community. An example of support for CPRA’s activities is indicated by the 800 public submissions to the Development Policy Advisory Committee (DPAC) during the Cheltenham Park Racecourse Development Plan Amendment (DPA).
CPRA was incorporated under the Associations Incorporation Act on 29 October 2007. Prior to incorporation, CPRA was known as the Cheltenham Park Residents Group (CPRG). The group was formed in 2004 at the instigation of the Member for Cheltenham, Jay Weatherill. CPRA’s Constitution defines its objectives, one of which is to advocate on behalf of people who have an interest in their City and who seek a remedy to adversity that is beyond their control. CPRA is formally recognised by the City of Charles Sturt as a community of interest and a stakeholder in community affairs.
CPRA has been constantly active over the past seven years in making submissions and representations to government via letters and petitions, being involved in public consultations and community workshops, and raising awareness through public meetings, media, internet, flyers, mail-outs etc. CPRA challenged the State Government’s rezoning of the racecourse in the Supreme Court of South Australia but was beaten on points of law. CPRA did win an important ruling on the issue of ‘standing’, meaning the Court recognised CPRA’s right to challenge the government’s decision. This ruling will have implications for future legal action by residents groups.
CPRA’s actions are driven by three main goals:
- preservation of the last substantial area of open space in the north-western suburbs
- optimal usage of the site’s stormwater harvesting and recycling potential
- flood protection for the citizens of the Cities of Charles Sturt and Port Adelaide/Enfield.
CPRA has no issue with who owns the land; its concern centres on uses of the land that prohibit the three goals listed above. If the land is developed for high-density housing, achievement of the first two goals would be severely restricted, and the third goal would be unachievable. Hypothetically, if the site were maintained for horseracing, with the middle of the racecourse used for wetlands and managed aquifer recharge (MAR), all three goals would be achieved to a large extent. (CPRA understands this is an option to be considered if disposal of the racecourse cannot proceed for legal reasons). In a best case scenario, if Federal, State and/or Local Government acquires the land compulsorily (statutory provision exists for it to do so) for flood mitigation works incorporating wetlands/MAR and surrounding absorption areas doubling as recreational open space, all three goals would be fully achieved.
The Port Adelaide Racing Club (the previous owners of Cheltenham Racecourse) wrote in 1960 in support of the racecourse being proclaimed as open space:
Recreational facilities are an ever increasing need as the population expands, and the provision of such facilities is one of the most pressing problems of our present day….It will be impossible for open areas to be established in the future, therefore those which exist should be jealously guarded and preserved.
The following year, the Governor of the day did proclaim that the racecourse be preserved as open space, believing it was in the public interest to do so. Forty-eight years later, under a much higher press of population and urban congestion, that proclamation was lifted by the present government to make way for a residential development of some 1200 homes.
The north-western suburbs in particular are earmarked for urban infill to accommodate the government’s population growth targets. The local council, the City of Charles Sturt has amended its Development Plan to accommodate 27,500 additional dwellings. This is happening in a council area that already has one of the smallest percentages of open space (less than 7%) of any council area in Australia.
Water is foremost in everyone’s mind with the Murray-Darling River system in crisis. Internationally recognised water expert Colin Pitman has stated that if all of Cheltenham Racecourse is used for wetlands and managed aquifer recovery (MAR), with water harvested not just from the local catchment area but from other catchments as well, it could yield 20-30 gigalitres of water annually – roughly a third of Adelaide’s annual draw on the Murray. Why would the Government, charged with the responsibility of water security, not make the most of that opportunity?
If all of Cheltenham Racecourse were used for wetlands, it would also solve another critical problem – flooding. Floods follow droughts, and when the big rain comes, experts say the western suburbs will be the most at risk. The government knows major stormwater upgrades are required in Charles Sturt Council, and acknowledges that the problem will be made worse by an increase in housing. Floodplain mapping for the local catchment area shows thousands of properties are at risk of flooding in a major storm event. If Cheltenham Racecourse remains open space for wetlands and recreation, it could be used to capture floodwaters in such an event, and the risk to people and property downstream of the racecourse would be greatly reduced. CPRA has received advice from the City of Charles Sturt that the planned 4.5ha wetland will not reduce peak flows during major storm events. In other words, under the current plans for development, the risk of flooding in major storms will not be reduced by the Cheltenham wetland.
A Fair Compromise
CPRA understands the need for housing to accommodate a growing population, particularly affordable housing for low-income families. CPRA has invited negotiation with the Government, and believes a hub of affordable housing close to the railway line could satisfy the requirements of a true ‘Transport Oriented Development’ (TOD). CPRA believes this and other nearby residential development projects such as Westwood, Bowden Village, Woodville West and Newport Quays will provide sufficient housing stock for the north-western suburbs, and allow most of the racecourse to be preserved as open space for stormwater harvesting, flood protection, recreation, parklands, biodiversity etc.
Secretary, Nancy Fahey
PO Box 5154 Alberton SA