Bid for new 6000-seat equine arena in Wagga must pass rigorous cost-benefit test: opinion

AELEC in Tamworth

AELEC in Tamworth

IT STANDS like a glimmering beacon on the southern entrance to Tamworth.

The Australian Equine and Livestock Events Centre – or AELEC to locals – is a sprawling, state-of-the-art facility, the largest of its type in the Southern Hemisphere.

It’s a swarm of activity on any given weekend, hosting everything from major rodeos to local school horse sport days.

The centre ploughs about $60 million into the local economy annually, luring equine enthusiasts from across the nation.

While a spirited grassroots effort helped bring the facility to life in 2008, it owes much of its existence to political chance.

As an independent MP in a finely calibrated parliament, New England federal member Tony Windsor was able to secure tens of millions of extra dollars for his electorate.

The Riverina, one of the safest federal seats in the state, has no such luxury.

But this hasn’t stopped a passionate band of locals from unveiling plans for a massive, 6000-seat equine arena in Wagga.

Headed up by former councillor Garry Hiscock, who has been a long and vociferous advocate for a major equine facility at Equex, the group this week pulled the proverbial whip on the debate, vowing to stump up money for a feasibility study.

They were pragmatic on where the arena might go – although Equex, a greenfield site or even the showgrounds would be most likely.

That the arena will need to be largely bankrolled by public money is a given.

But the benefits it will deliver are many.

Consider this: Wagga is within 500km (that’s within a five-hour drive) of 70 per cent of Australia’s population.

We are in the middle of a major equine region and in a city large enough to cater for major events.

There’s no reason that what AELEC has done for Tamworth, this arena couldn’t do for Wagga, 

The benefits for Wagga’s accommodation houses, eateries and many other businesses are self-evident.

What’s needed most is the political will to take it from concept to reality.

The city has a raft of competing development demands – a major convention centre, RiFL, the multipurpose stadium at Equex, an upgrade of Bolton Park.

Ultimately, governments must be prudent with how they spend our money. But if the equine centre business case stacks up as it seems it will, it must be seriously considered by treasury.

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