By Joe Bourke
Leichhardt council has committed to building a new $3.5 million “state of the art” childcare centre by 2016, as part of its 2015 budget.
Councillor John Stamolis criticised the proposal, saying council “missed the baby boom”, and he and councillor Vera-Ann Hannaford moved a motion to defer the funds for the childcare centre to 2016/17 for further analysis of demand. The motion was narrowly defeated six to five.
But Leichhardt mayor Rochelle Porteous said there was still a strong need for a childcare centre in the area, citing waiting lists of around 200 people for the current council run centres.
“It’s not only the local population,” she said.
“We’re actually on the route for a lot of people going into the CBD, so we’re very popular and not just for our own population.”
A report commissioned by council found that despite the waiting list, overall supply currently exceeds demand by 49 places. There are also 6 development applications without construction certificates in the area, and if they were all to become operational, this supply would increase by a further 519 places.
Clr Stamolis attacked the proposal for being rushed and pointed to the statistics from the report, saying the centre’s construction would be too late to have an effect.
Clr Stamolis also voiced his concern about the $1.5 million loan that would be required for the centre, and said that he could not see any community support for the proposal.
“Unlike any other significant campaign, there have been no emails from supporters of this proposal, no one attends council meetings to support the proposal, there is no community campaign and there is no longer any media coverage or media campaign about the concerns of the families for childcare places,” he said.
“Council completely missed the baby boom… You only need to look at the newspapers from the last year. Has there been any coverage about the need for a childcare centre? No.”
Mayor Porteous told City Hub there had been “consistently strong support” for the centre.
Labor councillor and former mayor Darcy Byrne voted in favour of the proposal, and it was under his leadership in 2012 that the council committed to investigating the prospect of two new childcare centres.
He called the proposal a “modest but sensible response from Council”. Clr Byrne also pointed out that there had been two years of community consultation regarding the location and design of the centre.
“There is still a serious shortage of long day care places, particularly from not for profit providers,” he said.
“The centre has been specifically designed to allow it to be easily converted to a youth or community centre in the future if the community’s needs change.”
Clr Stamolis said the fact that both Mayor Porteous and Clr Byrne pointed to the adaptable design of the centre and its possible different future uses probably meant they knew the future of the centre wasn’t viable.
“We need to seek opportunities for providing new tennis courts, basketball courts. Give them spaces that they can actually use, because that’s going to be the demand,” he said.
“We’re talking about building something for $3.5 million that Darcy and Rochelle have said in a few years time will probably be a mixed use centre, not a childcare centre.”
The council commissioned report made two recommendations. The first was that council reconsider its decision to build additional centres in the future, but continue with the Leichhardt park service although noting the risk. The second was that it continue to “monitor the demand for child care and infrastructure for families with children, including a review when 2016 Census data is available”.
Among other budget proposals were $907,000 to begin construction of the Callan Park skate park, $550,000 for new netball courts and an amenities block in Darley Road, and more than $4.6 million for an upgrade of the Leichhardt Park Aquatic Centre.
The child care centre went to tender at a meeting last Tuesday night and passed six to three.
The budget is on public exhibition until June 12.