1 August 2023

Get cracking on Belconnen town centre primary school, government told

| Ian Bushnell
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Yvette Berry MLA.

Education Minister Yvette Berry told budget estimates there’s no need to make a decision on the new Belconnen school yet. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

A lack of planning for a new primary school in the growing Belconnen town centre has the local community council alarmed.

The Belconnen Community Council had included it as a priority in its 2023-24 pre-budget submission but was disappointed to hear Education Minister Yvette Berry tell budget estimates there was no need for a new school in Belconnen “because there is capacity within the other schools in the area”.

Directorate official Deb Efthymiades said population projections and school census data did not support the need for a new school as yet.

“So at this stage, there is not a critical mass to merit additional school capacity – either an expansion of an existing school or a new school, at this point,” she said.

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But Belconnen Community Council chair Lachlan Butler said the ACT Government’s delay in making a decision about planning the construction of a Belconnen town centre primary school was disappointing.

Mr Butler said the ACT Government Infrastructure Plan released in 2019 included a strategic proposal for an early childhood education and primary school in the heart of the Belconnen town centre, but nothing had happened since despite a growing population and ongoing development in the area.

He said that there were now roughly 6000 people living in the town centre, including about 250 primary school-aged children.

“We believe that early and proactive planning and allocation of resources are critical to ensuring the long-term prosperity of the Belconnen town centre and maximising the benefit of infrastructure investment,” Mr Butler said.

He said the council was worried that if the government delayed too long, much of the best available land would be sold off, limiting its choices for a school site.

“As we witness the expansion of residential developments in our town centre, it is essential for the ACT Government to proactively plan for the future by investing in this public infrastructure now, to ensure the best location and outcomes are achieved,” Mr Butler said.

He said there were schools around the town centre such as Florey but they were not within walking distance and families were missing the community anchor that a local school provided.

“A dedicated primary school within the Belconnen town centre is not only about fulfilling current needs but ensuring that our community thrives in the years to come,” Mr Butler said.

“It is an investment in our children’s future, enhancing their educational opportunities and fostering a vibrant and sustainable community.”

The Council of ACT Parents and Citizens Associations has also been calling on the government to start planning schools for town centre communities, suggesting multi-storey or vertical campuses might be suitable.

Mr Butler said community members had mixed views on vertical schools, which would have to provide sufficient green space and facilities to be acceptable.

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He said the council had not identified any sites for a school but some had suggested the Winchester Police Centre land in College Street.

“That’s a significant-sized area within the Belconnen town centre that could provide a lot of flexibility and opportunity for a primary school,” Mr Butler said.

He said the council expected the community to start pushing harder for a school now that the government had made its position clear.

“We’re not saying you have to build it right this second, but if you plan for it you can get the best outcome by starting early,” he said.

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Reopen Cook Primary not that far to walk from Belco town centre

Why would anyone expect this government to put the needs of children before developers? Thinking ahead for the community and planning for their needs? I don’t think so.

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