PARK WATCH March 2020 |

Nature Conservation Campaigner Shannon Hurley shares the power of persistence in the battle over the Belfast Coastal Reserve.

The efforts to protect Warrnambool’s pristine beaches against destructive commercial racehorse training have faced many challenges over the past four-year-long campaign. But at long last it seems we may be nearing the final bend.

The past couple of months, in particular, has shown that consistent pressure from both a local and state level is seeing positive results.

Main training area off the books – December 2019

In January 2019 the Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne overturned the Warrnambool Planning Scheme (which deemed commercial racehorse training on beaches to be illegal) to give the go-ahead to the racing industry to access Levys Beach. The Warrnambool Racing Club had until November 2019 to get their relevant approvals ticked off.

Fast forward over 12 months later; this deadline has now passed, and the planning scheme amendment has expired. VNPA’s correspondence with the Minister confirms that the racing club no longer have their eyes set on Levys Beach.

This means one of two main commercial racehorse training sites along Warrnambool’s beaches is free from pounding hooves!

However, access to nearby Spookys Beach further west is still a live issue – despite the fact racehorses were never meant to be there at all. Unlike Levys Beach, Spookys Beach was not actually identified as a training area in the Belfast Coastal Reserve Management Plan finalised in 2018, and seems to have been a late, unofficial addition – showing just how far special allowances for the racing industry can stretch.

Local politics faltering – February 2020

Regardless of any involvement from the state government, the overriding question has always been whether the local Warrnambool City Council would permit racehorse training – and the associated commercialisation of Warrnambool’s beaches – to occur in the groups such as VNPA, have ensured any move made by the Council to welcome the racing industry has met with firm opposition. At the latest Warrnambool City Council meeting the public floor was filled with local dissenters, and what started out as moving to progress approvals ended up instead in a decision to meet stakeholders to discuss the issue further.

Good sense is even beginning to prevail in a more unlikely arena, with local journalists reporting that support from the local racing industry for commercial racehorse training within the Belfast Coastal Reserve seems to be waning.

As we continue to call on the racing industry to halt their pursuit of Spookys Beach just as with Levys Beach, let’s take the time to celebrate the protection of the Belfast Coastal Reserve to date, and for everyone who has stuck with this campaign this far. Persistence is proving powerful!


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