NSW government decision to press ahead with $300m Penrith stadium under scrutiny

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP</span>
Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

The New South Wales premier’s decision to proceed with the $300m rebuild of the Penrith stadium in one of the state’s most marginal seats, while dumping other suburban stadium projects for budget reasons is set to come under the microscope.

Former deputy Liberal leader, sport minister and local member, Stuart Ayres, has been a strong advocate of the stadium upgrade for Penrith Panthers.

The Labor opposition has called on the government to produce documents to the upper house about why it has dumped the projects and why it is proceeding with the Penrith project, given other pressing budgetary needs.

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“We will be scrutinising this decision closely. We will be asking questions about what drove it, who knew about it and its impact on the local community,” Labor MP John Graham, who called for the papers, said.

The order calls for papers relating to the commitment to fund and build suburban stadiums in Sydney, including the Penrith stadium and the subsequent decision to scrap some of them.

It requires the production of business cases, tender documents and contracts, as well as cost-benefit analyses.

The Penrith stadium project is not an upgrade. In July it quietly morphed into what appears to be a multimillion development, involving the state government compulsorily acquiring the 11-hectare site next door and the construction of an entirely new stadium.

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This site is very large and combined with the old stadium site, could become a major expansion of Penrith.

The next-door site is owned by the Penrith Agricultural Society and home to Penrith harness racing paceway and Penrith show, as well as a club and several businesses.

The acquisition order, which arrived in July, a day before the announcement of the more extensive plans, caught paceway chief executive, Tash Greentree, totally off guard.

Faced with long-term financial pressures, the paceway had been in discussions with Penrith council about the opportunities to redevelop their site into 2,000 residential dwellings and a mixed-use development.

It has signed up a development partner, Capital Corporation and begun working on the masterplan and rezoning proposal to lodge with council. Assuming it received development consent in the future – it planned to buy new land in the region and build new facilities.

But now that opportunity will probably fall to the state government and Penrith Panthers.

Greentree has warned the future of the paceway and the Penrith show is now uncertain as the compulsory acquisition is unlikely to yield sufficient funds for the move.

Meanwhile, the collapse of a safety rail at Leichhardt Oval last weekend which sent over a dozen people toppling from a stand will renew questions about how the decisions were made to scrap some upgrades, but proceed with Penrith.

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The group of spectators – part of a 15,000 strong crowd watching a rugby match between Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview and St Joseph’s College – suffered injuries including concussion, bruises and broken bones.

Multiple inquiries are under way over the incident.

“We’ve been saying for some time that the state of the facility at Leichhardt is substandard, it’s third-world, and potentially dangerous, what we saw was the fulfilment of that potential,” Wests Tigers chair, Lee Hagipantelis, said.

The government’s backflip on stadiums has drawn fire from the ARL chief, Peter V’landys, who threatened to take the rugby league grand final to Brisbane.

On Wednesday the decision drew criticism from one of the government’s own, dumped fair trading minister, Eleni Petinos, who has moved a motion urging the government to honour its commitment, especially to her local team, the Cronulla Sharks.

“We love our footy and should get our fair share in the Shire. Today I urged the NSW Government to honour the commitment to fund suburban stadiums like #SharkPark,” she said on Facebook.