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   Dec 12

Sydney faces once-in-a-generation enrolment surge, schools inquiry told

Former NSW education minister Adrian Piccoli during a 2014 visit to Ultimo Public School. The school is set to be hit hardest by the influx of residents into the Bays precinct. Photo: Peter Rae City of Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore says the NSW government ”has not kept up”. Photo: James Brickwood
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Save Our Sirius Protest Rally. Protest march from Customs House to the Sirius Building in The Rocks, rallying against the NSW Goverment’s plan to knock down the iconic building for luxury apartments. Photo shows City of Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore addressing the rally. Saturday 17th September 2016. Photograph by James Brickwood. SHD NEWS 160917 Photo: James Brickwood

Sydney is facing a once-in-a-generation enrolment surge, a NSW Upper House inquiry into inner-city schools has heard, as the NSW Department of Education struggles to keep up with demand.

The comment, from the department’s executive director of asset management Anthony Perrau, is contained within the inquiry’s final report, which made seven recommendations when it was tabled in parliament on Monday.

The inquiry heard the city was hurting from the closure of three inner-city primary schools during the 1990s, a lack of communication between the department and the City of Sydney, and high remediation standards for contaminated land earmarked for schools.

Lord mayor Clover Moore said the decision to close three schools in the 1990s was reflective of an attitude “towards the end of the ’90s that people in this area would not be having children”.

That decision, combined with several new developments, had put a strain on resources, with the number of primary school-aged children forecast to increase more than 50 per cent between 2015 and 2025.

“Sydney is facing a once-in-a-generation enrolment surge and, unfortunately for us, or fortunately for the city, it is happening in the built-up infill areas,” said Mr Perrau. “People are wanting to live back in those area.”

Cr Moore said the stamp duty collected from new developments should be used to fund more schools.

“Between 1996 and 2016 across the City of Sydney, the total stamp duty collected [by the NSW government] is estimated at $8 billion, of which $700 million has come from Ultimo-Pyrmont and $500 million so far from Green Square,” she said.

Green Square and Ultimo are set to become two of ‘s most densely populated suburbs within the next decade.

“Major physical and social infrastructure has been delivered by the city and developers but investment by the NSW government has not kept up,” she said.

“There is a lack of urgency to tackle the shortfall of school places and provide for rapid growth, especially in our major urban renewal areas.”

The committee,led by Liberal MLC Michael Gallacher, urged the government to formalise co-ordination between UrbanGrowth NSW, the Planning Department and the Education Department to ensure that school building programs are determined with up-to-date information on development pressure.

The department’s deputy secretary of corporate services, Peter Riordan, said the it had been successful “in getting UrbanGrowth and government to accept that schools are essential infrastructure when planning is being done”.

“Now that was not always the case,” he said.

But the inquiry heard that the total number of school places required for the inner-city Bays precinct, where tens of thousands of residents are expected to live, was still unclear.

“It is an unknown for us at this stage,” the department advised.

Ultimo Public, the subject of half the inquiry, is set to be hit hardest by the influx of residents into the Bays precinct after a 2015 backflip by the NSW government on a plan to build a 1000-student school over student safety and contamination concerns.

The school was rendered financially unviable by the department after it opted for a level of remediation that cost $53 million, $46 million more than the minimum required by the Environment Protection Authority.

The committee recommended that the department rely on the standards set by the NSW Environmental Protection Authority, unless it can demonstrate that a higher standard is required.

The final recommendations handed down by the committee include: The department amend the inner-city school cluster model to acknowledge that public schools provide an important sense of community and to afford greater emphasis to connecting schools with their immediate neighbourhood and community.The department subject its demographic projections to a regular third-party review process.The NSW government formalise co-ordination between UrbanGrowth NSW, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment and the NSW Department of Education to ensure that school building programs are determined with the most up-to-date and accurate information on development pressures.The department share its demographic projections with councils in appropriate cases and on a confidential basis, to ensure a cohesive and consistent approach to city planning.The Minister for Education consider strengthening whole-of-government oversight.The NSW government conduct an audit of public land in all areas of significant population growth in NSW to identify suitable locations for new schools and expansion of existing schools.When assessing land for the purposes of remediation, the department rely on the standards set by the relevant authority such as the Environment Protection Authority, unless the department can demonstrate that a higher standard is required.

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