Funding secured for tracks

All-weather race tracks look more likely than ever to become reality with revelations the Cabinet has approved spending for "several" courses.

The Otago Daily Times revealed in July an all-weather racing track would be built in the South Island.

Racing Minister Winston Peters announced at the Karaka yearling sales in January one all-weather track would be built in New Zealand. Last month, in Invercargill, he tripled that number.

The announcement went almost unnoticed until Radio New Zealand yesterday  led a bulletin with the funding proposal.

The likely venues for the tracks are Christchurch, Awapuni and somewhere in  Waikato.

At the time, Mr Peters said there should not be 38 to 46 events being cancelled, with the associated losses.

The racing industry lost nearly $3 million in the last season due to abandoned races, mainly from wet and dangerous tracks. Ironically, a meeting at Wairarapa yesterday was abandoned because of wet weather.

The sport employed more than 50,000 people directly and indirectly and had an economic impact of about $1.6 billion a year.

The money for the courses would not all come from the Provincial Growth Fund. Clubs would be asked to contribute, probably dollar for dollar.

Regional Economic Minister Shane Jones reportedly said $30 million of contingency funding in the PGF had been earmarked for Government pet projects.

The money set aside was at the upper limit of what he expected would be needed.

The projects, which included a Dunedin centre of digital excellence, the Te Hiku Sports Hub, in Kaitaia, and several all-weather tracks for the horse racing industry, all came out of coalition talks between Labour and New Zealand First.

National Party economic development spokesman Paul Goldsmith was unhappy the PGF was being used to fund all-weather tracks.

"Make no mistake, National supports the racing industry and recognises its economic contribution. That’s not the issue here.  Funding decisions should be open and rigorous. Instead, the process is opaque and murky so it’s hard to disentangle the arguments."

Mr Jones said the projects would be subjected to rigorous scrutiny but papers released to National under the OIA from the PGF’s independent advisory panel made a nonsense of that, Mr Goldsmith said.

They showed "manifesto commitments" would not get a thorough assessment.

The PGF was an "all-purpose political slush fund" into which anything could fit, he said.

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