City News

Plan for new Ultimo Public School falls through

Photo: Joanna Kelly

Negotiations between the City of Sydney and The Department of Education (DEC) have broken down after a year of planning for the conversion of a council depot into a 1,000 student public school.
Both parties are blaming each other for the failed talks, while residents and other politicians are desperate to get the site back on the table.
The DEC released a statement of their position on the matter.
“Although remaining committed to building a new public school in Ultimo/Pyrmont that meets local needs, the Department of Education has withdrawn in frustration from negotiations to buy land for that purpose from the City of Sydney,” the statement read.
“Despite detailed, ongoing discussions and several solid financial offers from the Department, The City of Sydney refused to act reasonably in considering the educational needs of the ratepayers’ children in those areas.”
The City of Sydney and Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, insist that they have always negotiated in good faith with the DEC.
“I made it clear that the City is committed to working with the DEC until this matter is resolved and the Minister seemed committed to concluding an agreement,” Clover Moore said.
“The Minister for Education (Adrian Piccoli) must now explain to the local community what plans he has to provide a new school in the area given the NSW Government has abandoned the Fig and Wattle Street site.”
It is understood that the tipping point was the question of who would remediate of the heavily contaminated site.
Greens spokesperson for Education, John Kaye, said that this was constitutionally a matter for the State.
“The Education Act gives the Government the responsibility to provide quality public education to every child,” he told City Hub.
“That means looking ahead, securing sites, and even remediating them if need be.”
Ultimo Public School Parents and Citizen’s Association spokesman Bill d’Anthes has called for both parties to look past partisan politics, sending a letter to both asking that negotiations be resumed.
“I think both sides should have done more,” he said.
“The City should have asked for less given that other Cities and councils are doing more and I think that the State should have offered more – they definitely shouldn’t have cut off negotiations after so long,” he said.
The Independent Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwhich, and Greens Member for Balmain, Jamie Parker sent a co-signed letter to Adrian Piccoli insisting he keep his promise of having a new inner city school up and running by 2017.
The Liberal Candidate for Sydney, Patrice Pandeleos, said that Alex Greenwhich could not wash his hands of the issue as the Member for Sydney.
She took to Facebook to express her frustration.
“I am disappointed that the Lord Mayor and the Member for Sydney have played politics from the start on this issue,” the post read.
“It is now clear that the Member for Sydney cannot work with the State Government to achieve outcomes like this one for the community.”
Mr d’Anthes completely rejects the claim that Alex Greenwhich had not done enough.
“Alex has worked quite hard with the community to see that the school is built – it’s dissapointing that it wasn’t successful, but I don’t think he is at all to blame for what has happened here,” he said.
John Kaye believes that the issue needs to be seen as above politics as a critical issue.
“There’s a critical moment in time where securing new sites and increasing the capacity of existing inner city schools can be done without interrupting educational outcomes. That moment is fast passing,” he said.
City of Sydney data estimates that in the next four years the number of primary school aged children will increase by 1,700.
This comes in conjunction with estimates that high schools in the inner city will reach absolute capacity by 2018 at the current rate.
“The Department has taken its eye off the ball and we are headed for a crisis,” Mr Kaye said.
The DEC insist that the search for a new site is still a high priority.
“The Department is investigating options for a new Ultimo/Pyrmont Public school which will be discussed thoroughly with the community before a solution is implemented,” a statement read.
The prospect of the Bays Precinct has been raised as possible avenue, but has met stiff resistance.
“Redevelopment of the Bays Precinct is still in very early stages and with the need for projects of this size to involve extensive community consultation and planning, it is unlikely to be able to provide for the urgent education needs for Ultimo and Pyrmont residents,” Alex Greenwich told City Hub.
Premier Mike Baird’s claim that he would see the Powerhouse Museum moved to Parramatta has opened the would be vacant site, but the proposal to move the museum is not expected to be successful.