A miscalculation by the Queensland Dept of Education could see gross overcrowding at local schools. Special report by Sam Navin.
With high caliber community development projects lined up for the West End peninsula, and a blinkered approach to deal with the inevitable population growth in local schools, education has become the canary in the coal mine.
By the year 2030, West End – South Brisbane peninsula is expected to absorb 22 per cent of Brisbane’s growth, yet Brisbane City Council’s billion dollar riverfront development plan, the Draft Kurilpa Master Plan, fails to allocate any additional provision for educational institutions in the area.
South Brisbane councilor, Helen Abrahams, asserted that the state government had produced a South East Queensland Regional Plan: Implementation Guidelines for the years 2009-2031, which contains the ratio of the number of residents in an area for the provision of high schools, primary schools, kindergartens and multi-purpose community centers.
“According to the guidelines, West End peninsula which has a current population of 11,000 households, needs four primary schools, two high schools, and two kindergartens and community centers,” Cr. Abrahams said.
“Currently we have one very large high school, two primary schools and we probably need an extra kindergarten and community center in the area, “she added.
“However, that’s before any intention of considering the much greater population which is predicted for the area. With plans to double the current population to 25,000 households, there is no proposal for any site for either a high school or a primary school.”
There are very few sites on the peninsula that would provide the space required for educational institutes and, in the past two years, two sites that were zoned for education were sold for property development.
A Distance Education site on Montague Road and more recently a site zoned for the Southbank Institute of TAFE were sold off by the previous State government.
Mr. George Koukides, principal of First National Metro and First National Commercial, confirmed the sale of the two sites from a real estate perspective.
“The properties have been sold and settled. They’re in the South Brisbane Riverside Strategy Plan which allows 30 storeys at the TAFE site and 12 storeys at Montague Road,” Mr. Koukides said.
A spokesman for the Brisbane City Council stated that any statutory changes to the South Brisbane Riverside Neighborhood Plan as a result of the final Kurilpa Master Plan would need to be approved by the current State Government, which will also be responsible for ensuring adequate education facilities to accommodate population projections.
“The Bligh State Labor Government made the decision to close a former education facility site at 401-419 Montague Road in West End, against the strong advice of Brisbane City Council,” the spokesman stated.
“Council sought feedback from the community on the draft Kurilpa Master Plan between 21 August and 3 October 2014 and received over 300 written responses and over 400 responses to the online survey, which it is now reviewing,” he said
However, last year on 2 October, when South Brisbane MP and current Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, West End Community Association president Dr Erin Evans, and Cr. Helen Abrahams approached the former Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney’s office, they were locked out of the Queensland Executive Building. The trio went with the intention to present a petition with 1700 signatures for extending the time to evaluate the Kurilpa Master Plan
“In my opinion, the previous state government was too greedy to get development at any cost and didn’t do the thing it was obligated to do – which is to plan for a whole community,” Cr. Abrahams said.
“The previous state government believed that people who live in apartment buildings would be people without children, people whose life is predominantly work and entertainment,” she said.
The Department of Education maintains this view of the previous state government and confirmed that if the Kurilpa Master Plan is approved in mid-2015, it will not significantly alter the student population figures. But a spokesperson for the Department noted that when the Queensland School Planning Commission raised questions about the rate at which school-age children would be living in high density dwellings, the Brisbane City Council provided no evidence that contradicted the commission’s student growth projections.
“The yield of school-aged children for apartments is significantly lower than for traditional detached houses. It takes a much higher number of apartments to generate the same number of school children,” the spokesperson said.
On the contrary, this planning assumption that “children don’t live in apartments” was disproved in a submission by the school council and the Parents and Citizens committee, representing the interests of West End State School.
The report points out that 62.2 per cent of the students at the West End State School live in apartments.
In West End State School, which has an official capacity for 807 students, the current strength of 840 students represent the imminent need for an authoritative action to tackle the overcrowding of schools in West End.
Dr. Erin Evan, the president of the West End Community Association and a member of the school P&C committee, perceives that the local schools are trying to cope with the overcrowding issue by re-planning the available space in their current sites and by rearranging things at the school.
“Even with the current government sternly opposing the Kurilpa Master Plan, the population growth in the West End peninsula is set to increase because there are other large development plans that are pushed forward. These projects will directly affect the catchment areas for the schools in West End,” Dr. Evans said.
“If the required infrastructure is not installed, then the increase in population will significantly reduce the quality of life, increase traffic congestion and highlight the lack of schools,” she said.
“The lack of schools will be the most critical issue in this case because if you don’t have a place for your children to go to school, it’s ridiculous,”
“My family is personally affected by this issue since my daughter just started at Brisbane State High. It was an arduous process to prove that we lived in the local catchment area and my family will have to deal with the fact that the school is struggling to accommodate a growing population,”
“The schools can only work with the means and mechanisms they have and by juggling around with enrolment policies, although that’s not really where the source of the problem is.”
The substantial community response may be the first tangible warning of a larger developing problem and the schools population issue will be the litmus test that will measure the priorities of the current State government and the Brisbane City Council.