By VANESSA LIM
Scots College, a prestigious private boarding school in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, has had their $29 million library upgrade approved, despite backlash from Bellevue Hill locals worried about traffic issues and a further increase in student numbers.
The Independent Planning Commission (IPCN), which approved the renovations, said: “.. it will allow for the provision of improved learning facilities… update an existing educational facility allowing it to become more accessible and inclusive… (and) generate up to 418 construction jobs.”
‘Catastrophic accident a probability’
The IPCN acknowledged there were existing traffic problems in the area, but concluded that an increase in traffic problems would be improbable. The Concerned Scots Neighbours group (CSN) argued in its statement addressed to the IPCN that existing traffic problems in the area were an issue that couldn’t be ignored.
Paul Blanket, Chairman of CSN, said, “Given that 90% of the objections to this application were on the basis of concerns in regard to the total lack of safety on the roads surrounding Scots, it is a clear indication that the community is seriously concerned that a catastrophic accident is not a possibility but a probability.”
In the IPCN’s summary of complaints, 96% had issues with traffic.
“It is no accident that Woollahra Council has knocked back every major recent Development Application by Scots – because Scots has not taken any serious attempt to resolve the traffic and parking problems created by the breach of the student cap.”
In the IPCN’s submission summary, it is stated that out of 52 community submissions, 49 objected to the proposal, 2 were comments and there was only 1 supporter.
Some 63% of submissions had concerns with the student increase.
Scots College’s student allowance is 1,120 but in the IPCN report, it is noted that Scots College current student count is 1,504 as of July 2018, putting the school in breach of the student capacity.
In the past 5 years, Scots College has taken Woollahra Council to court to increase its student capacity and failed each time. Traffic issues was the main concern in each case.
Paul Blanket doubted that Scots College would attempt to fix the traffic issues.
“In 2014, Concerned Scots Neighbours commenced a Class 4 action against Scots in regard to its breach of conditions of consent in regard to the student cap. In late 2015 we agreed to drop the action on the condition that Scots makes a serious attempt to resolve the dangerous traffic situation by submitting a DA and commencing a building program to put onsite parking and internal drop off on their campuses. After an initial discussion with Council, Scots has done nothing.”
In an anonymous letter to the IPCN, parents spoke out about the overcrowding issue. Scots College Student’s Parents (SCSP) said, “It has been made known that if parents speak at the public meeting they will be spreading criticism about the college and their son’s enrolment can be terminated… Parents think the school is overcrowded causing bullying and disorganisation and would like it to be a condition that the school starts complying with existing student limits before it can do any new building works.”
Paul Blanket said, “Over the past week Concerned Scots Neighbours has received anonymous phone calls and letters urging us to continue raising our concerns. They detailed both staff and parents who are afraid to speak out in fear of retribution from Scots management and have personal concerns about child and staff safety.”
With the hefty price tag on the Library Development, Scots College has said in the Sydney Morning Herald that most of the funds would be collected through donations and fundraisers.
While funding for library renovations would be private, the Parents of Scots College students said in their statement, “Also, parents have asked a number of times to amalgamate the Womens Association and the Parents Association. Both associations are unincorporated and funds should be directed to operational needs of the school but some of the funds raised by the Womens Association volunteers are going to the Stevenson Library Development.”
This raises ethical questions about where Scots College is sourcing some of its funds for the development.
Another issue is the height of the Scots College’s Library proposal, which is 9.5 metres over the current height limit.
The IPCN argued that this was a “State Significant Development,” which overrides the general rule. The Department of Planning Industry and Environment also agreed that excusing the height limit was acceptable since there would not be significant overshadowing and that a view loss assessment had been conducted.
The Scots College Library renovations will soon commence and are set to be completed by 2021.