7 February 2022

Bungendore High School plans in disarray as Queanbeyan Council backflips on site

| Max O'Driscoll
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Bungendore High School

Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional councillors have voted to overturn their support of the proposed Bungendore High School site. Photo: NSW Department of Education.

Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional councillors have backflipped on a previous decision to support the proposed Bungendore High School site.

In a move described by NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell as unprecedented, the incoming council voted to overturn its in-principle support for the controversial Bungendore Park site.

The site was championed by former NSW Deputy Premier and Member for Monaro John Barilaro but has been strongly criticised by local group ‘Save Bungendore Park’. Its members argue the community has been split in half by the decision to use the park.

The recent council decision has further disillusioned many Bungendore residents, who fear it will lead to further delays in constructing the much-needed school expected to cater for up to 500 students.

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Councillors voted six-to-one at the 27 January council meeting in favour of relinquishing support for the current site. Three councillors abstained on the night, and there was one absence.

Of the six councillors to vote in favour of overturning the previous decision, three ran on the Labor Party ticket, one on the Greens, and two were independents including new mayor Kenrich Winchester.

The only councillor to vote against the motion was Mareeta Grundy, who urged her fellow councillors to rethink their decision to help prevent another generation of Bungendore children from growing up without a local high school.

“I want Bungendore to have a high school. If we don’t go with this current proposal, we will not get a high school in the foreseeable future,” Cr Grundy said.

“We will be taking things back to square one with the Department of Education. They’ll have to find the funding again, and that takes years of discussion, assessments and planning. That could take up to five years alone.

“That in my mind is not in the interest and greater good of the community.”

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Cr Grundy remained unconvinced by the prospect of an alternate site and worried the decision jeopardised years of work to bring the school to fruition.

“We don’t know when or if that funding will ever come back if this current proposal is quashed,” she said.

“All the funding with the Department of Education is around the current proposal. They can’t just wrap that money up and put it aside and reapply it to a possible, alternate proposal.

“At least another, possibly two if not three generations of Bungendore kids will miss out.”

The Bungendore High School Action Group revealed its devastation with the result, arguing it was not “based on any consultation with the wider community”.

Cr Grundy said whichever side residents were on, local children and their education had the most to lose in this argument.

“Unless you have walked in the shoes of families who have gone through six years of their child’s education and watched them get on buses as early as 6:45 in the morning and not get back as late as 5:15 in the evening… then you don’t understand what’s at jeopardy.”

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One of the decision’s supporters, Councillor John Preston, said the complexity of the issues surrounding the site made a Term 1, 2023 start “all but impossible”.

“The issues covered in this [business] paper are only some of the issues yet to be tackled to deliver on this divisive proposal. When those other issues are considered, persisting with this proposal will see a high school for Bungendore postponed for many years to come,” Cr Preston said.

“Our position will be clear and our commitment to the Bungendore community to be a strong advocate for a properly located high school will be a matter of public record for which we will be held accountable. And I anticipate and expect that the community will ferociously hold us to this commitment.”

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The Save Bungendore Park group echoed this sentiment in an online post to its community, addressing the decision and suggesting blame should not be placed with council.

“As it stands, completion of a school on Bungendore Park any time in 2023 is looking doubtful, and even Term 1, 2024 looks optimistic,” the posted stated.

“These delays are not the fault of council or those in the community opposing the plan. They have been obvious since last year and are the fault of the Department of Education, which – with the support of John Barilaro – made a last-minute decision to change sites, without any consultation or due diligence.

“The best chance for a Bungendore High School, without further delay, is to build it on a site that doesn’t present the legal and planning difficulties facing this deeply troubled plan.”

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Greg Cameron7:47 am 11 Feb 22

Cr Bryce Wilson made a commitment on behalf of Labor at the Wamboin public meeting on February 7 that Labor would support the site selected for Bungendore High School if this was the “last option” remaining after the alternatives were “re-investigated”.

Cr Wilson confirmed that Labor does not reject the selected site.

A high school opening in 2023 is a political commitment made by Mr Wilson on behalf of Labor and by Mr John Barilaro on behalf of the Coalition before the March 2019 state election.

After a three-year consultation program conducted by the Department of Education (DoE), Labor is apparently reneging on this timing commitment.

DoE is charged with selecting a site that is fit for purpose.

Labor’s objection to the selected site must relate to the DoE selection criteria, otherwise Labor must reject the selection criteria.

Now that Labor councillors have withdrawn Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council’s “in-principle” support for the chosen site, they are obliged to disclose their reasons with specific reference to the selection criteria.

However, if Labor councillors reject the selection criteria, they simply remove QPRC from the process.

Those community members who chose not to participate in the three-year consultation program conducted by DoE also chose to accept the outcome.

Those residents who object to the selected site are obliged to accept the selection criteria.

QPRC has not disclosed a deadline to undertake its unspecified “re-investigation”.

It should do so promptly.

Frank Spencer9:36 pm 07 Feb 22

When pigs fly Bungendore will have a high school.

Reminds me of the time back in 2009 when Palerang Council rejected a permanent Telstra tower to replace the temporary one. Then Telstra said they would just take the temporary tower away leaving them without any coverage, and then the council realised it was unable to retract the rejection and needed the state government to step in.

In this case the dissenting councillor is quite right, the money will be lost if they have to go back to the beginning – and they don’t have a local member who is the National Party Leader anymore to push this one through. We know that none of the new schools built in NSW in the last few years have come from the Dept – it’s all been decisions taken by Government. The council is entitled to make this decision, but this decision is a rejection of the new school, its relocation to a more preferred site is not certain.

Cate Hutchinson11:27 pm 07 Feb 22

There is no current clarity on what impact this decision will have regarding funding for the various projects in Bungendore. However should the NSW Education Department choose, it can sequester funds already allocated while a new proposal is drawn up. Coming up with a workable plan should be the first priority of the department now.

At the moment the Department is trying to bully QPRC and Bungendore residents opposed to the site. It is now intimating that if the Majara Street location is not used they will pull funding for upgrades to the Bungendore Primary school.

When the plan was published it horrified many residents who had no idea of the impact the plan would have on the nature of the town centre. As it stands the proposal would cause a massive loss of amenity to Bungendore.

Residents raised money for a community swimming pool which is being compulsorily acquired, with no new pool in the works for years. Half the park area where people walk their dogs will be taken over by the agricultural plot.

The Mick Sherd Oval will be part of school facilities and not open to the public for general recreation as it is now. This is leaving aside the lead poisoning in the soil adjacent to the site, the lack of parking and the traffic congestion caused by shutting off a major road.

The diversion of traffic will cause a bottleneck on a road which will run through the campus, putting students at risk.
The only solution now is for the Education Department to work with Council to find a solution. QPRC has the confidence and appreciation of the many residents who have been trying to be heard on this issue..

I’m not disagreeing that you and some others wish the school would be built elsewhere. but the Ed Dept can’t just sequester the funds, that’s not how the budget process works. They will need to ask for new money, which then needs to go through the NSW Cabinet and Parliamentary processes. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but now you are competing with every other place in NSW who wants a new school too. The risk that the school will never be built has now become more likely.

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