An Australian V8 champion is calling for Queensland’s oldest cane growing region to be developed into the new home of Australia’s motorsport industry.
- Bathurst champion Paul Morris says Rocky Point ideal spot to build motorsport precinct
- Canefarmers lobbying council, government to rezone area for residential, tourism development
- Region protected under plan that sets land aside for rural production
The 2014 Bathurst 1000 champion, Paul Morris, said the Rocky Point region between Brisbane and the Gold Coast was an ideal spot to build a world-class motorsport precinct.
“It’s a perfect opportunity really when you look geographically at where this area is located. It’s well suited to developing it into a motorsport precinct,” Morris said.
“You could have a facility like Daytona. Daytona Beach is famous for racing and the whole town survives around the spin-off that the racetrack generates.”
Given our proximity to Brisbane and the Gold Coast, and having Moreton Bay at our backdoor … you wonder why someone couldn’t find a solution to be able to do something that is alternate to agriculture.David Heck, mill owner
The area supports around 50 canegrowers, and was the home to some of Queensland’s earliest cane farms and sugar mills, dating back to the mid-1800s.
Canefarmers have also lobbied Gold Coast City Council and the Queensland Government to rezone the region, to make it suitable for residential or tourism development.
Richard Skopp, the president of the local canegrowers association, supports a rezoning of the area for tourism purposes, to help boost the value of the land for ageing farmers looking to retire.
“As sugarcane land, I can’t see it being worth anymore than $15,000 a hectare, but development land should be worth a lot more than that. It should be worth four times that,” he said.
“If the whole area was purchased, including the land that’s not growing cane, it would cost about $1 billion to purchase all the land and start the work.”
Fewer young farmers coming to region
For the time being, the region is protected under the state’s South East Queensland Regional Plan, which sets the land aside as a rural production area.
This means Rocky Point sits outside the “urban footprint” — a prescribed boundary in which large development can occur.
The plan is currently being reviewed, but the State Government would not yet say if Rocky Point’s rural and regional status would change to accommodate development.
David Huth, a former canefarmer, heads up the Rocky Point Future Planning Association.
He said there were fewer young farmers coming into the region — a trend which is casting doubt over the future of the industry.
Mr Huth also said the region was too small to be competitive as a cane farming area.
“We would all be quite happy if we could still grow cane and make a dollar out of it,” he said.
“It is the future of the mill and the mill’s viability that will ultimately be affected.”
Unlike cane growing areas in north Queensland, Rocky Point cannot expand to produce more cane due to its proximity between Queensland’s two largest cities.
“The general consensus is that unless a sugar mill is crushing more than a million tonnes of cane, then it is inefficient or not viable,” Mr Skopp said.
In a good year, the Rocky Point region produces up to 400,000 tonnes of cane, but usually averages about 250,000 tonnes, according to the local mill owner David Heck.
“When you get below 250,000 tonne it’s tight, and it’s marginal,” Mr Heck said.
The Hecks have owned the mill since it was built in 1878 and rely on cane from farmers in the district. But five generations later, the family is also considering its cane future.
“It is when you get those low-tonnage years when all of a sudden you think we need to do something to transition, we need to look at other opportunities,” Mr Heck said.
“Given our proximity to Brisbane and the Gold Coast, and having Moreton Bay at our backdoor and all the other things that go along with living near the Gold Coast, you wonder why someone couldn’t find a solution to be able to do something that is alternate to agriculture.”
Motor tourism ‘would bring in $70,000 a day’
Morris, who already owns a small motor tourism complex in the centre of the district, said the region could profit if it was developed into a large motorsport precinct.
“We can do an event here and turn over $70,000 a day in one event and that’s dealing with high-end companies like Rolls-Royce, Maserati and Ferrari,” he said.
“These are people who want to activate and showcase their product and they are bringing people to the region as well.”
For the past decade, a company called Integrated Motorsport Education Tourism and Technology (IMETT), has wanted to build a world-class motor racing circuit at Rocky Point.
IMETT declined to speak with the ABC, but confirmed it was seeking overseas investment to build a $2.5 billion racing and tourism complex on up to 600 hectares of farmland.
Gold Coast Deputy Mayor Donna Gates said council officers were already investigating sites that could house an adrenaline precinct as part of the council’s City Plan 2015.
“There is a proposal to find a suitable parcel of land, and it will need to be fairly large, but the prime concern for development of any kind in that region is the amenity of the existing residential community because we need to look after their interests as well,” she said.
Cr Gates said proposals to turn the area into housing estates and marine precincts could be more difficult, as the area is prone to flooding during the wet season.
Ben Spann is one of the few young farmers in the district, and wants to stay on the land.
“I don’t actually try and stop anyone from doing anything,” he said.
“That being said I do believe there is an industry here for the next five years or whatever, and I will try and fight for that industry until development comes and takes it.”