Council takes a punt on Towac Park

ORANGE City Council has backed Racing Orange’s track upgrades at Towac Park, pledging $100,000 this year and an extra $300,000 over the next three years if the group meets the project’s milestones.

But at least one councillor is concerned the city could lose its investment and control of Towac Park if the group is unable to revive racing.

Cr Reg Kidd did not vote on the proposal, as a past board member of Golden West Race Club, the precursor to Racing Orange.

When declaring his interest at Tuesday’s meeting, he cast doubt over a staff report that said the council had provided close to $247,000 of in-kind work and cash to the racecourse in the past 20 years.

Cr Kidd believes the total is much higher and wants the council to seek advice from member for Orange Andrew Gee about what control the council has over the crown land racecourse should its manager Racing Orange’s venture fail.

“I hope it grows and grows, I’m passionate about racing,” he said.

“But my main concern is if we have any security over council’s investment.

“I’d like to see it become the city’s [should Racing Orange fold]. It’s a great green space.”

Cr Kidd said the council spent money on other recreational areas such as the showground, which was crown land managed by the council, and sporting fields such as Endeavour Oval and Waratah Sportsground, which were owned by sporting clubs, but if the groups folded the grounds would remain community assets.

He wants assurance the same would happen with Towac Park and believes the group should produce financial statements from the past three years to back its bid.

“If Racing NSW is supposedly putting in that money [$1.3 million] how come they’re not putting in more?” he said.

“We hold all the risk.

“This is ratepayer money and we have to be a lot more prudent.”

After much debate, all councillors except for Neil Jones agreed to commit $400,000 over four years at Tuesday’s meeting.

But Cr Russell Turner also had concerns, saying the council should only lock-in $100,000 this year and leave the rest for future budgets while negotiations continued with Racing Orange and the Orange Harness Racing Club over the future of Highlands Paceway.

“What happens in 12 months time if all those negotiations and discussions have broken down and we’re locked into another three years?” he asked.

“I’m told there are virtually no trainers and horses out there [at Towac Park] because the stables are so bad.”

Cr John Davis said the council should roll out more money for Towac Park, but Racing NSW would also have to spend more than $1.3 million to enhance the facility.

Cr Jeff Whitton said he supported the money for Racing Orange and believed the council needed to look at the big picture to transform it into a multipurpose venue.

Cr Glenn Taylor agreed and said Towac Park could be home to harness racing, karting and even an equine centre.

But Cr Jones said he was concerned about the long-term future of racing in Orange and was unconvinced Racing Orange could reinvigorate the sport.

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