The great stadium debate: Where the major parties stand ahead of State Election

Stuart Ayres at Penrith Stadium in December 2021. Photo: Megan Dunn.
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The building of a major new stadium in Penrith has become one of the most contentious issues in the area in the last few years, and crunch time for the project is imminent.

The background

The stadium was first announced by Premier Dominic Perrottet in December 2021, with the original plan to build the new venue on the site of the existing BlueBet Stadium.

Under that plan, the Penrith Panthers would have played outside of the local area for two years and returned to be the anchor tenant of the new venue.

Since then, the State Government has shifted its focus to building the new stadium on the site of the Penrith Paceway and Showground, which would allow for a bigger venue and for the project to fulfil its multi-purpose agenda.

TQL Stadium in the United States has been part of the vision for the new stadium in Penrith.

If the State Government cannot reach a commercial agreement with the Paceway, it is likely to move to compulsorily acquire the land.

The Paceway had long desired to have the site re-zoned from recreation so it could move out of the Penrith CBD, with apartments to replace the iconic showground and harness racing track. However, Council has no plans to accept a re-zoning.

The Premier’s position

This week, Premier Dominic Perrottet confirmed his government’s intent to build the new venue in Penrith.

“When Labor opposed this construction as a vanity project, they have no idea what these stadiums mean to local communities and it is all about building culture, bringing people together and that’s what I want for western Sydney,” he told the Weekender.

“Stuart has been passionately advocating for that stadium for his community all the time and we are delivering it and we are delivering it in the best site possible that works.”

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet in Penrith this week. Photo: Melinda Jane.

That “best site possible”, the government contends, is the Paceway and Showground site.

But the cost of acquiring the land, and potentially re-locating the Paceway if the Government opted to take that path, would see the original $300 million budget for the project skyrocket.

This is Labor’s issue in refusing to back the whole concept.

Where the Opposition sits

With $300 million allocated in the NSW Budget for a stadium in Penrith, Labor Leader Chris Minns said he would need to think carefully about signing off on anything above that amount.

“If you are going to run for re-election and you have plans either involving Paceway, the current site, expansion beyond that, that’s north of $300 million and if he [Stuart Ayres] does have plans for that, well where is the money?” he told the Weekender.

Chris Minns in Penrith earlier this year.

“Will it be funded by the future privatisation of assets? I suspect that they’re deliberately opaque about where they’re up to in terms of the process, hoping to get over the election campaign.”

Penrith MP Stuart Ayres rejected the claim that privatisation would fund the project when questioned by the Weekender.

“The most important thing here is that we are working with the Paceway, the Valuer-General will be determining what that relocation cost is and we will let the independent valuer make that determination,” Ayres said.

“We think it is an appropriate investment for this community and we think it’s more than affordable within our budget.”

What the Paceway says

Penrith Paceway CEO Tash Greentree does not believe that the added costs associated with relocating the Paceway will be feasible within the allocated budget.

“Public information tells us that Allianz Stadium final delivery cost was at just under $20,000 a seat so for a 25,000-seat stadium we are talking about half a billion dollars just on the stadium alone,” Greentree said.

“Infrastructure NSW advised us that they were preparing an evaluation and order of cost for relocation over a month ago, but we haven’t heard back, so negotiations have still not commenced.

“we believe we are looking at $80-100 million to set us up somewhere else”

“Based on previous racecourse builds and the infrastructure we have in place here, we believe we are looking at $80-100 million to set us up somewhere else and that doesn’t include land cost.”

Penrith Paceway CEO Tash Greentree. Photo: Melinda Jane.

The bottom line

Neither party has to pay to relocate the Paceway if the land is compulsorily acquired, but forcing the closure of the iconic venue without helping it set up elsewhere would likely be political suicide.

It would appear unlikely that Labor will back out of the project to build the stadium, but is not keen on entertaining the idea of exceeding the original Budget.

The elephant in the room could be the NRL Grand Final. Both parties would be keen for it to stay in Sydney, which could mean the next Government has its hand forced on stadium upgrades elsewhere. This could potentially put the Penrith project in doubt, especially if the allocated Budget would blow out significantly.

Where should the new Penrith Stadium be built?

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