VNPA marine and coastal coordinator Chris Smyth gives an update and calls on Park Watch readers to help stop our beaches becoming racetracks.

Despite barely 50 hooded plovers left in the Belfast Coastal Reserve, and a disastrous breeding season just passed, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) has issued a licence to the Warrnambool Racing Club for commercial horse training right on the beach.

This could be the first step in the state government’s privatisation of public beaches and their management. It will certainly set a terrible precedent in coastal policy – today racehorses, tomorrow dune buggies, trail bikes, etc. And like Belfast, located between Port Fairy and Warrnambool, there are many other reserves along the coast without specific regulations to effectively manage them and prevent inappropriate uses.

The legal failings of the Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, when she approved the licensing approach in November 2016 were outlined in the March 2017 Park Watch. They still apply with the final issuing of the licence.

The minister used the wrong clause in the Crown Land (Reserves) Act and failed to insist that the Warrnambool Racing Club apply for consent under the Coastal Management Act. But even if she had followed the correct approach, our legal advice is that the use of the reserve for commercial racehorse training is inconsistent with both clauses. The purpose of the reserve is to protect the coastline and its natural and cultural values, and support passive recreation – racehorses pounding up and down beaches are inconsistent with that purpose.

As well as the legal failings, there has been a lack of transparency in the government’s process. VNPA has had to submit a freedom of information request to DELWP for copies of the licence to the Warrnambool Racing Club. We have also requested the 2012 application by the Warrnambool Horse Trail Riders Club for consent to use the reserve under the Coastal Management Act, and the consent given. It turns out that this small club had to submit an application for a one-off trail riding event, while it appears that the Warrnambool Racing Club was not required to do the same for intensively using the reserve every day of the year.

The Andrews Government has claimed that licensing commercial horse training is the best way to protect hooded plovers. Even if that were the case – and it’s not – community monitoring has shown that interim conditions for racehorses using the reserve have been regularly breached. Even after the issuing of the licence in June, there was a further breach at Golfies Beach between Killarney and Port Fairy in July.

In a significant victory for the local community’ ongoing campaign to remove racehorses from the reserve, the Shire of Moyne banned commercial horse training from a small section at Killarney Beach in March 2017. The next campaign target is the removal of racehorses from the entire reserve, and for it becoming a protected area under the National Parks Act.

You can help save the hoodies

Sign your online postcard to the ministers who are turning our beaches into racetracks here.