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ACT Govt says no to drag strip

From The Canberra Times

Quinlan's dragway decision will cost Canberra

The ACT Government's decision not to fund a dragway was a bombshell that would take money from Canberra, industry promoter Geoff Develin said yesterday. Treasurer Ted Quinlan said a dragway would not be part of this year's ACT Budget, to be handed down on June 25.

"It's disappointing that the Government cannot provide the necessary funds for the building of the dragway, but with competing demands in the Budget, it is simply not possible," he said.

A previous dragway closed in 1998 after a dispute over extending the lease. Supporters have been lobbying the Government to help fund a new one ever since.

Mr Develin said the closure was the result of a mistake by the previous government and had led to 26 years of work and millions of dollars of investment going down the drain.

Mr Quinlan said the previous government had paid for an economic impact report and preliminary assessment for a proposed facility. It found a dragway would generate up to $6.2 million a year in gross state revenue.

"The EIR indicates that a new dragway facility would cost $6.2 million to construct and $500,000 annually to operate, which is beyond the capacity of the Government to fund in light of the considerable funding demands and priorities in this year's Budget," he said.

A Treasury assessment of the impact report had found significant errors in its method and questionable assumptions, and said it provided no assessment of significant risks. Benefit-cost ratios were unreliable and provided no support for public funding.

"While very high benefit-cost ratios had been developed in work done for the dragway's supporters, the assessment of the Treasury was that the benefits were substantially overstated," Mr Quinlan said.

Mr Develin said the same person who did the dragway report had done studies of the V8 race and many other Canberra tourist attractions. No-one from Treasury had contacted him to check information.

Mr Quinlan said the NSW Government was improving its dragway facilities and was proposing to spend $21 million to upgrade Eastern Creek raceway. This meant it was much less likely Canberra could attract national events.

"In addition, Eastern Creek is less than three hours from Canberra, and should provide the local drag-racing community with a long-term venue," he said.

Mr Develin said Canberra would still have been able to hold national events. The NSW upgrade was a reason to build the dragway, so Canberra could capitalise on growth in the industry. The Government's decision meant money and supporters would go interstate.

Mr Quinlan said the Majura site proposed by the dragway proponents had been valued at about $500,000, and was not readily available for development. It was under lease until 2005 and dual-managed with the Commonwealth.

Mr Develin said he had been expecting that at the very least he would have been told how Labor planned to solve the problem. He had expected the land to be bought, developed and preliminary work to be done with planning for work in future years.

"We had a lot of confidence and faith in the ALP," he said.

Labor's election win had been helped by the motor-sport fraternity, which had supported Labor because of its support of the dragway while in Opposition.

"Now the ALP has its hands on the steering wheel, it is not doing anything," he said.

In addition to the economic benefits, the dragway would also have positive social benefits, by reducing illegal street racing.

He asked how Mr Quinlan would react when an illegal street racer was killed, saying a dragway would give these racers a place to blow off steam.

Mr Quinlan said police were aware of the illegal street racing and there was no evidence a dragway would reduce it.

Mr Develin said he did not know what his next step would be, but he was considering putting up a web site that explained the issue.

It was flabbergasting to think that millions of dollars was spent on one weekend of V8 racing, while local motor sport and its thousands of supporters missed out on a facility that would be used all year.

You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen. It said, 'Parking Fine.'So that was nice.

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