Opinion | Residential streets no place for motor racing

INCREASED TENSION: A V8 Supercars event will mean high-speed vehicles will be allowed to race through the Newcastle East Heritage Conservation precinct.
INCREASED TENSION: A V8 Supercars event will mean high-speed vehicles will be allowed to race through the Newcastle East Heritage Conservation precinct.

It is accepted practice throughout Australia for large motor racing corporations to get millions of dollars of public money from State tourism departments to set up racing circuits through residential streets without the consent of residents. 

In NSW, the Major Event Act makes this possible.  Any day now Stuart Ayres, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Major Events, will declare the V8 Supercars race in Newcastle East a Major Event, enabling vehicles to race at high speed through the 40km-limited Newcastle East Heritage Conservation precinct, only three metres from the front doors of 120-year-old terraces, to the utter dismay and outrage of residents.

The circuit proposed by Supercars will not have to be assessed by the Environment Protection Authority.  The Minister simply appoints a 'Responsible Authority' able to approve activities that would otherwise infringe all State and Local planning acts.

Declaration of a Major Event requires only that the Minister is satisfied that, firstly, the event is in the public interest. What is it about a residential street race that is in the public interest?

Supercars claims it will attract 16,000 tourists a year to this three-day event, but this number hardly qualifies it as a major event when you consider the number of spectators attending a single football match. What about their claim of injecting $57 million into the local economy?

Not according to the Auditor-General’s 2010 Report on the Homebush V8, where the government invested over $40 million to build a circuit through Olympic Park. Under a cloud of questionable dealings exposed by the Sydney Morning Herald, this event ran for five years, was renewed for three, but left after two, losing a lot of money.

The A-G concluded that the NSW government had received inadequate advice from the race promoters when assessing the Homebush proposal.  Economic benefits had been overestimated, while the costs had been underestimated. The A-G recommended a proper cost/benefit analysis be done before any future events.  

Apparently, this has not been done for the Newcastle event, where the costs are far more speculative and the road works even more expansive.  Who will have to foot the bill when the costs inevitably blow out?  

The second main reason for declaring a Major Event is the international audience it will attract.  Does this claim stack up? 

There has been much research into the exaggerated TV audience figures of motor race promoters. Even Supercars supporters acknowledge that TV audiences have been falling, due largely to its move to the Foxtel pay TV.  This is why Supercars needs to keep the event moving on, to 'showcase' new places that will attract government funding.

But the temporary nature of this event means that our streets and parklands suffer major disruptions, not just for the event itself, but for the months required to widen and re-surface the roads and set up and dismantle the pit stop, viewing platforms and concrete barricades.

During the event itself, the Newcastle East peninsula will become a 'gated community'. Only those who pay to see the race will be able to access the beaches and all the tourist attractions that are located on the peninsula. 

The 2009 Major Event Act’s  requires a Review of the Act after a period of five years. I have been unable to find any evidence this has been done. If not, the Minister should urgently conduct one and allow the residents and small businesses of Newcastle East the opportunity to demonstrate how inappropriate it is to apply this Act to facilitating high-speed street races through residential neighbourhoods.

In 2011 the Coalition voted with the Greens to move the V8 Supercars Event away from Olympic Park.  The Late Dr John Kaye remarked that, “Local Homebush residents and their councils have made it abundantly clear that, having experienced the race twice, the noise, pollution and disruption are intolerable”.  However, while the Coalition agreed then that the V8 in Homebush was intolerable for residents, it appears to be quite acceptable in Newcastle East.

High-speed motor racing does not belong in residential streets, not in our backyard, or indeed, in anyone's backyard.

Dr Christine Everingham is a sociologist and retired academic. She is a long-term resident of Newcastle East