By ALLISON HORE
The Inner West Council faced backlash after confidential negotiations to grant “preferential access” to a large public park to one of Sydney’s wealthiest schools were leaked by a member of council. If approved, the 30-year licence would give Newington College in Stanmore exclusive use of the fields at Tempe Reserve for 17 hours per week, including 7 hours every Saturday.
Greens councillor Tom Kiat revealed the discussions in a Facebook post at the end of April, saying the decision would effectively be the “partial privatisation of public land in favour of an elite private school.”
It costs students in years 11 and 12 over $35,000 a year to study at Newington, and another $28,000 a year to board.
Mr. Kiat also condemned the decision for negotiations about the license to be held in private. “This is going to be a huge issue for our community, yet I am not able to share the details publicly due to ‘commercial in-confidence’ issues,” he said. “I do not believe it should be confidential – we are talking about negotiations over public land between Council and a school.”
Between 2015 to 2017 Newington College spent over $50 million on infrastructure. Their 25-acre Stanmore campus is all boys and houses 50 boarders among 1,700 day students from years 7 to 12. There are two ovals on campus, which are used for cricket in the summer and soccer and rugby in the winter. The college books the fields at Tempe Oval when their grounds are already in use.
After the negotiations between the school and council were leaked, independent councillor Pauline Lockie, who supported the plans, weighed in with her reasons for backing them. She said that while she can “empathise” with the concerns of the councillors who opposed the license, she disagrees that it will lead to privatisation of the reserve as the times college intends to occupy it are in line with an existing booking the school has.
“Given this usage will not be ceasing anyway, I’d rather see the community get something back out of this, rather than just further degradation of the grounds,” Ms. Lockie explained on Facebook.
However, for one local cricket club, the extended hours the college will have exclusive access to the fields on Saturdays means they will no longer have a ground to play on. Ms. Lockie says that council staff have “committed to working with this club to find a suitable alternative ground.”
While the amount of money being offered for the license is strictly under wraps, Ms. Lockie said the money earned from the license would be used to improve the facilities on the field. She said a 21-year lease would cover a synthetic surface and partial lighting upgrade while a 30-year licence would include these and lighting upgrades, a new amenities building, and a fund for future repairs.
“I agree it’s unfortunate the full details of the proposal are being kept confidential at this time, and voted on the night to have the debate in open Council for this reason,” she said. “But that was outvoted, and Councillors were advised yesterday that these details must remain confidential.”
Licenses of the length that Newington College is applying for must receive state government approval before going ahead. A public exhibition process following the negotiations will allow those with concerns about the deal to make submissions to the minister before it is approved.
Negotiations between the school and council regarding the license to use the fields are ongoing. Newington College did not respond to City Hub’s request for comment.