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DPE & The New Karting Track(s) For Melbourne

  8 February 2013

Drew Price Engineering is a major stakeholder in a proposed new motoring facility at Pakenham, 55km South-East of Melbourne. The complex is to include a number of karting circuits.

Despite many years of planning, the project has largely been out of the spotlight, save for the announcement of a Feasibility Study in 2009 (link to article) and then last Sunday, an article on website (link to article).

Drew Price spoke with Mark Wicks of KartSportNews about the project – a project he believes might be the last chance to build a significant motoring facility close to Melbourne.

KartSportNews: How long has DPE been involved with this project?

Drew Price: From the start. We were the ones who started the project, which is now in its eighth year.

KSN: What was your prime motivation to start on something like this?

DP:  It effectively started when I was searching around for the possibility of building a karting complex. I needed to find out if there were any councils that were, in any way shape or form, pro motor sport or pro motoring activities. The Cardinia council were somewhat interested and had already done some work on various types of motor activity over a period of time.

But going back before that, I felt that karting was always vulnerable to circuit availability. We’re seeing that in Sydney and on the Gold Coast where it has hit home hard in the last few years.

Melbourne has a good situation in comparison, but I feel there is still no real long term security. So a motivating force was to have something that had long term security for karting, and therefore our business, into the future.

I have done some research and feel a karting venue, that is more than just a typical racing venue, has the basis to be a good business model if you can get it located somewhere close to a capital city.

(For non-Victorians, Pakenham enjoys multi-lane freeway, plus rail, access direct from the city. Depending on traffic, it’s around a 45-50 minute drive from the CBD.)

KSN: Is it mostly you, personally, working on this? Or is it one of DPE’s general projects?

DP: Yes, it’s more me personally, not so much DPE. I have dedicated a lot of my time to this.

KSN: How have you found the council to deal with?

DP: I have to say, right from the start, Cardinia Shire has been incredibly supportive.  I cannot overstate that - they’ve always had a genuine interest in the concept.

What we started to uncover, despite the genuine interest from Cardinia right from the start, was there is a lot of bureaucracy when things come to motorsport - noise, emissions, environmental impact, that type of thing. If this was to be just a karting facility, it was very unlikely we would meet all of those challenges.

In order to really maintain the support from council and secure government support – and we’re not talking financial, but the support of going through all the bureaucratic challenges and processes – it needed to be something to benefit the wider community, not just karting.

The Victorian Government and CAMS had done a study on motor sport in Victoria and what were the primary needs for the future. We got involved with the person who did that study and started to see the possibility of combining what we were seeking to do, with what the outcomes of this study were. So the project was looking to involve a broader community and therefore get the local, state and federal government support to get through the various challenges.

That’s where it turned into something more significant that just a karting complex. The news report of it being like a smaller version of Eastern Creek is, I think, a pretty accurate description.

KSN: This is sounding like a mammoth amount of work!

DP: To be honest, it was never my desire to get involved in something this comprehensive. But sometimes you get involved in a project and it heads off in a direction you were not expecting, but you keep going otherwise you are not going to see any result or achieve anything.

For at least the last four years it has always been about the bigger project.

KSN: How many locations have been seriously considered? I notice the current location is different to what was mentioned in 2009.

DP: One of the biggest challenges was to get a piece of land that was suitable and to have it zoned so that it was possible.

The McGregor Road location was one that was always potentially in the mix. When the other location we were looking at became unavailable, we decided to go ahead with McGregor Road.

KSN: Bill O’Gorman is mentioned as Project Co-ordinator. Have you worked with him much in the past?

DP: I have worked a little with him on a project in the past, but it’s mainly been this one. He’s been working with me on this for all eight years. He does a lot of the hard-grind work, dealing with ‘The System’ which is extremely time-consuming and slow to move. He’s dealing with state and federal governments and other bodies along the way.

KSN: Is Chisholm TAFE still involved?

DP: They have been interested in the past four years. Bill’s had a lot of communication with them. They are very interested in the concept of potentially running some form of campus there, and therefore the council are interested in that. They’re interested in having an involvement in the running of the venue and using it for training, such as catering, landscaping, and getting education into the workplace. Unfortunately, along the way, a lot of TAFE funding has recently dried up. 

KSN: How hands-on will you be, both during the build and later the running of the facility?

DP: I don’t have an answer to that question.

There are still a number of challenges to face here before this actually goes ahead.

For example, pretty much all last year we were addressing an ecological issue relating to the Growling Grass Frog. (At this point I start to chuckle as this frog has impacted various other projects around Pakenham. Check this link for an example).

Seriously, that’s been a work in progress for all of 2012, and it’s still not resolved.

Every time you think you are getting to the point of a design and build, other challenges come up and get in the way.

KSN: There was a very basic plan published for the previous location. Is there anything available for the McGregor Road location?

DP: There are no public designs available. We have done some preliminary stuff such as the feasibility that it can sit in the land and there are no major dramas with the logistics of it. But there are so many key challenges and approvals to go though before spending money on detail design.

KSN: Will the facility seek AKA approval with an eye to run AKA events?

DP: The answer to that is yes.

KSN: In that case, will it be built to potentially run state/national or even international events?

DP: Yes. My idea would be to have the best karting complex in the country. We like to think it will be international standard and of a standard that’s better than any existing facility. There is no point building something that’s to the same level as what there already is.

KSN: Does the kart track need to provide the facility with an income stream?

DP: Absolutely it does. It has to provide the karting section with an income stream. You can’t talk this sort of investment without getting income from it.

KSN: So what are the possibilities for that? Rental karts? Track hire?  Club leases?

DP: All of those and more. You have to look at everything - driver education, driver training in karting, all sorts of possibilities. I think there are a lot more possibilities than what we (currently) take advantage of.

The smart way is to have multiple activities going on, and it probably needs three independent kart circuits to do that. Clubs want their members to be able to access a circuit; corporate karts need to be able to operate; kart racing or driver training needs a circuit. Logistically, this could all be going on at the one time. That’s how you generate a proper income stream. You can’t stop one activity to accommodate another.

KSN: The article on TheAge website mentioned a completion date of January 2016. Is that actually feasible?

DP: If the Growling Grass frog is still jumping in the way, then no. If it jumps out of the way next week, then yes.

I wouldn’t consider myself a particularly patient person, and issues like this can go on, and on, and on. It’s frustrating you can’t work at normal business speed.

Bill keeps going and following through and he’s got the frog issue through the state government and he’s now at federal level with it.

The timeframes that were mentioned in the article are not ridiculous at all, but whether they prove accurate, only time will tell.

One major thing is we still need to seek funding for this. The basic guide was always that it was our responsibility to seek and fund the karting component of the complex. But the funding for the rest of the facility is something we could never provide.

We can’t seek to secure funding until we know we can actually build this. It’s quite a catch-22 situation.

KSN: It appears to have been quite a leap of faith on your behalf to have invested so heavily for such a long period.

DP: It has, and I’ve put quite a lot of money into this project, but if someone doesn’t do that, it just stops. If I said tomorrow ‘I no longer want to be involved’, it would stop. The council wouldn’t continue with it or keep driving it along.

But let me say, we don’t believe it will be impossible to seek the funding for the non-karting component of the facility.

If the business model stacks up - and I believe it does - then yes, it’s certainly possible.

To get through a lot of the hurdles, you need to be talking about much more than just motor sport. Even its name, Cardinia Motor Recreation & Education Park, is important for that.

As an example, the state government does not want to talk to you with the numbers that are involved in karting. A few thousand people in the community, they’re not that interested.

But as I mentioned before, this project involves so much more than that. If you look at the commercial activity at Eastern Creek, it’s booked out nearly every day of the year and the majority is corporate and commercial events.  That’s the sort of thing that will happen here.

It’s a project with potential, otherwise I wouldn’t be wasting my time.

KSN: Some closing comments?

DP: I reckon this could be the last opportunity to get a motoring facility near to Melbourne. I really think, year by year, it’s only going to get harder.

We’ve been lucky in that we have a council that is 100% supportive. If you don’t have that, you’re wasting your time.

One of the reasons I’d hate to give up was uncovered in the study I mentioned earlier: the long-term future of Sandown is in doubt. Calder Park’s future is always in doubt. Phillip Island is extremely expensive and a long way out.

With the vulnerability of these circuits, Melbourne could find itself with nothing very quickly.

The complex will have a proper 3km track and other facilities to target a key area identified in that report; grass-roots motorsport.



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