Dissent still lingered over the location of Bungendore’s yet-to-be-built high school at the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council’s (QPRC) recent meeting.
Council’s been divided over the proposed Majara-Gibraltar precinct site, which the NSW Government has now acquired.
The council backflipped on its support of the proposed site in January 2022, and Councillor Mareeta Grundy’s motion at the 11 May meeting to signify council’s “in-principle support” also failed.
“Some would say this council has put up a good fight against the proposed high school; others would say this council has been obstructive and counter-productive in withdrawing its in-principle support of [the Department of Education’s] proposal in January,” she said.
“I have had a number of families contact me seeking clarification about the status of the Bungendore High School project. One mother and her 10-year-old son approached me at the Sutton Bakery, distraught at the thought this project might fall over.”
Cr Grundy argued her motion was not about “taking sides”, but rather it was about acknowledging the current position and an attempt to repair council’s relationship with the Department of Education (DoE).
“One of the pillars of good leadership is knowing when to take stock and adapt to changed or changing circumstances,” she said.
“Good outcomes come from good relationships, and currently our relationship with the DoE is on life support.”
However, Councillor John Preston disagreed and proposed an amendment to the motion to remove council’s in-principle agreement.
“Given the recent passage of the compulsory acquisition of associated lands by the DoE,” he proposed the council “note the resolution of item 16.1 [relating to the school development] indicating council’s ongoing engagement with this situation”.
Item 16.1 in the meeting’s agenda was discussed in closed council.
Cr Preston argued a “raft of issues” were yet to be solved over the site and that he felt not all site options had been investigated by the DoE.
“Bungendore is surrounded by greenfield sites that offer far better long-term solutions to this important social and community issue,” he said.
“The arrival of the DoE at the site has far more to do with expediency than good planning.
“What I can’t applaud or endorse is the DoE’s process that has brought us to this site selection.”
Cr Grundy said she was not surprised with an amendment to her motion, however, she was “puzzled”.
“How can council agree with the need to work with the DoE and proceed with certain declarations and agreements from here and not offer a statement of support for the project?” she asked.
“I can’t believe we’re having this almost petty discussion where we’re not able to make a public statement that we now find ourselves in a position where we are supporting this proposal.”
Councillor Katrina Willis countered she felt the DoE’s entire process had been “extremely poor” and she did not endorse the “poorly conceived plan”.
“The community of Bungendore shouldn’t be forced to choose between essential facilities, such as a high school, and their own town park,” she said.
“I remain hopeful common sense will prevail and a more appropriate site will be found, one that actually meets the government’s own criteria for a public high school.
“If this falls over, it will entirely be the fault of the DoE and not this council.”
Cr Preston’s amendment was passed seven to three.
In closing the debate, Cr Grundy said she felt the new motion painted council as “hypocritical”.
“It would cost us nothing to make a public statement that we are working with the DoE and therefore we support the project,” she said.
“We’re not losing a park. The park is staying right where it is.
“The writing is on the wall. We need to be grown-up. We need to show some leadership. We need to get on with this project so that our community has some clarity and has some certainty for their children, for businesses, for the community as a whole.”
The amended motion was passed seven to three.
The Bungendore High School Action Group welcomed the news QPRC’s CEO could now negotiate with the DoE on council’s behalf but said there was “disappointment” the project still did not have in-principle support.
“Many ratepayers are upset that Councillors have decided to continue to withhold support for one of the most significant investments into our community’s infrastructure, without first seeking and ensuring they are representing the views of the majority of the wider Bungendore community,” it said in a statement on Facebook.
Council authorised its CEO to progress with the delivery of a new office building, pool and community facility, along with provisional land for the Abbeyfield housing proposal.
“Council is now in a position to negotiate with the Department of Education about items which were not included in the current compensation process, which includes the Majara Road Reserve and Library,” a statement said.
QPRC will prepare a development application for the construction of a proposed new administration building on Gibraltar Street, along with design and approvals for the construction of the new pool at Bungendore Sports Hub.
Council will also negotiate for shared use of Mick Sherd Oval by the high school.
The Bungendore high school proposal can be viewed on the NSW Major Projects website.