Racing to a decision

A DISTRICT driver training centre will be allowed to race motor vehicles and abolish a 110km/h speed limit, following Council approval.

The decision at the most recent Council meeting came despite 11 public objections about noise and a staff recommendation to firstly glean more information from the applicant.

The Marulan Driver Training Centre (MDTC) on Prairie Oak Rd, operated by Gary and Natalie Wilmington, has generated praise and controversy since starting six years ago. Some have claimed that what started out as a training tool, particularly for young drivers, has transformed into a race track.

In the most recent DA, the Wilmingtons sought to consolidate existing approvals, allowing bicycle events, solar and electric cars ‘with the use of other vehicles and activities’ on site. This included both production and performance cars, whether capable of being registered or not, and go-karts.

It also requested removal of a 110km/h speed limit and an obligation to upgrade the intersection of Jerrara and Prairie Oak Rds, arguing signage was sufficient.

Councillors approved the request five votes to four at their meeting last week.

Mayor Geoff Kettle and Crs Margaret O’Neill, Denzil Sturgiss, Sam Rowland and Carol James voted in favour while Deputy Mayor Bob Kirk and Crs Andrew Banfield, Alf Walker and Robin Saville were against.

It was granted on the proviso that noise did not exceed 38 decibels and that a noise monitoring plan was furnished, among other conditions.

But nearby resident Pat Mulligan maintained in open forum that approving the plan would simply validate ‘illegal’ activities at the track. He maintained racing was already occurring, was promoted on the MDTC’s website and that noise had exceeded set limits on numerous occasions, without Council penalty.

Mr Mulligan set up a noise monitoring device at his property, 2.5km from the MDTC, on February 8, a video of which he showed councillors.

On that day the centre was conducting round one of the CAMS hill climb championships.

The device registered noise between 38 and 42dB over the period taken.

“That’s what I’ve put up with for five years,” he told councillors.

“We get that noise regularly and we shouldn’t have to put up with it.”

He accused Council of not properly monitoring noise at the track and not imposing any penalties. Now, thanks to what he claimed was an unauthorised extension to the track, it was “long and wide enough” to be a racetrack.

Mr Mulligan called on councillors to simply enforce the original DA, with its noise and operating conditions.

APPROVED: Marulan Driver Training Centre staff Garry and Natalie Wilmington (front) with administration manager Judy Ellacott, track marshal and trainer Jeff Costello, and cafe manager Tanya Broadfoot pictured in April last year.

APPROVED: Marulan Driver Training Centre staff Garry and Natalie Wilmington (front) with administration manager Judy Ellacott, track marshal and trainer Jeff Costello, and cafe manager Tanya Broadfoot pictured in April last year.

In 11 objections, other residents also claimed ‘racetrack activities.’ In his report, Council’s development control manager Richard Davies said MDTC’s website “added weight” to these concerns.

Examples included a January 29 posting promoting “V8 hotlaps in vehicles described as racecars, time trials and lap records”.

He said while the zone did not prohibit this activity, it could have noise implications.

But in their application, the proponents said the Centre would not operate as a motor car racing track, however racing of vehicles would be undertaken for the purpose of driver training.

Two choices

WHILE Council planners recommended gleaning more noise information before deciding the DA, councillors had another option.

General manager Warwick Bennett commissioned a consultant’s report, given that planning director Louise Wakefield had lodged the DA on the applicant’s behalf, before she was employed at Council. This has been done on several occasions to avoid conflict of interest.

It recommended conditional approval, no restriction on the types of vehicles at the track, provided they met the 38dB limit, and provision of a full noise management plan.

Councillors opted for this choice in a narrow vote.

Cr Denzil Sturgiss said he was comfortable with the conditions. “I think the noise levels are reasonably acceptable,” he said.

“If we go with this recommendation, we can enforce the limits. I can’t see what relevance speed has to noise.”

Cr Saville said he had many concerns. He argued the types of vehicles and removal of the speed limit had potential to increase noise.

“Over 20 per cent of neighbours expressed concerns and they have a right to the quiet enjoyment of their property,” he said.

“I urge you to get more information and say racing of any kind should not be allowed out there.”

Cr Kirk was also concerned about council monitoring to date and that approval would legitimise unauthorised activities.

He called for more clarity.

Mr Wilmington welcomed the approval but condemned what he said were ‘lies’ aired at the meeting.

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