Court decision delivers hammer blow to Wakefield Park future

Wakefield Park Raceway, in 2019

A court decision has put the future of Wakefield Park in jeopardy due to the imposition of strict noise limits going forward.

Commissioner Tim Horton has now handed down its judgment following the New South Wales Land and Environment Court proceedings which were held in March, when circuit owner Benalla Auto Club (formally, the BAC subsidiary which owns the site, namely ‘BAC WMR Holdings Pty Ltd’) took the local Goulburn Mulwaree Council to court.

While the building works have been approved, the new noise limits effectively restrict Wakefield Park to 30 days’ worth of race meetings per year, a situation which circuit management has previously stated would render its operation unviable.

UPDATE: Benalla Auto Club responds

Race meetings fall under the ‘Red Category’ of events, which are those where noise levels are 85 to 95 dB(A) LAeq 15min (ie noise level at frequency response of human ear, averaged over a 15-minute period).

However, it should be noted that for the purpose of the development consent, an ‘event’ is in fact “considered to be a day’s riding or racing and not individual events or individual rides or races on different tracks.”

That is, a race meeting of two days, for example, would be considered two ‘events’ for the purpose of council regulations.

Annexure A of the development consent stipulates that, “For every Red category Event, there shall be 11 Respite Days.”

A ‘Respite Day’ is defined as “a day with no motorsport activity”, while ‘motorsport activities’ are defined as “racing and recreational events and activities involving motor vehicles including street registered cars, race cars, motorcycles, and trucks, and excluding facility maintenance and repairs.”

Wakefield Park opened in 1994 and had, until recent years, been subject to the original 1993 development consent.

However, due to complaints about “offensive noise”, council issued a temporary ‘Prevention Notice’ in January 2019, then another in January 2020 after conciliation with circuit management, and another in July 2021, before quickly revoking the latter and reverting to the January 2020 version.

Those prevention notices were only ever intended to be temporary measures, with a new, permanent set of noise limits to be issued upon approval of the recent development application.

Wakefield Park had originally sought to be allowed 75 Red Category days per year, then apparently sought a compromise of 60 days.

Furthermore, it lowered what it sought with respect to ‘Amber Category’ days (75 to 85 dB(A) LAeq 15min) from 212 to 170 days.

Notably, should it use all of its 30 allowed Red Category days under the new development consent (dated July 13, 2022), it would not get to use any of its Amber Category days, the maximum of which it is allowed is 40 per year.

That is because the consent relies upon a particular methodology of ‘equivalent events’ (per Noise Guide for Local Government 2013 in New South Wales) based on how much an event category exceeds background noise by.

The 11 respite days per Red Category Day is multiplication ratio of 12, meaning the 30 Red days are 360 equivalent event days, leaving just five left over.

But, an Amber Category event day obliges eight respite days, and hence none would be allowed under the consent which has now taken effect.

Wakefield Park previously hosted the Dunlop Super2 Series, including the competition’s last ever standalone round (ie not on Repco Supercars Championship support bill), in 2008.

Its highest profile event nowadays is the Australian Superbike Championship.

The noise limits to which Wakefield Park must adhere, going forward

The methodology which the consent relies on (noting that the above figures are from a case study and do not specifically apply to Wakefield Park)

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