8 June 2021

Legal action looms over loss of heritage from high school in Bungendore

| Michael Weaver
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Bungendore Park Action Group members

Save Bungendore Park group members discuss the potential loss of the town’s heritage to make way for the Bungendore High School. Photo: Supplied.

Legal action over the location of the Bungendore High School may delay its proposed opening in term one of 2023 after a group of Bungendore residents began exploring their legal options.

The Save Bungendore Park group, previously known as the Bungendore Park Action group, has become an incorporated association that will allow it to take legal action over what it says is the NSW Department of Education’s misinformation about the Bungendore High School proposal.

The group is fighting the proposal to take most of Bungendore’s Park and off-leash dog area, its pool, community centre, library, council offices, and part of Majara Street.

The group has appointed Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council’s 2021 citizen of the year Richard Gregory as its inaugural president and environmental expert Associate Professor Mark Lintermans as the public officer.

Mr Gregory also believes there are multiple legal reasons why the development should not go ahead at its proposed site, including that the government failed to follow due process and that required land sales and road closures would be against the law.

“The state government is treating us like gullible country hicks,” Mr Gregory said. “But when I look around at the incredibly committed, knowledgeable and resourceful community members who have joined our cause, I’m confident we’ll win this fight.

“There’s no way any government, state or local, could approve a plan this bad. Our mission is clear. Our town park is the legacy our founders left us back in 1884. It would be a disgrace to betray it now.”

The battle lines being drawn over the proposed location of the town’s much-needed high school, on the Majara and Gibraltar Street precinct adjacent to the Bungendore Park, may also delay its proposed opening in term one of 2023.

While the Save Bungendore Park Group has said it is not opposed to the high school, Mr Gregory said the government’s chosen site will tear the heart out of the local community so the group is “exploring all legal options”, including a judicial review in the Supreme Court and potential appeal to the Land and Environment Court.

“It’s now time to take the fight to the next level. We never thought it would come to this. It’s disappointing that the state government and our council continue to ignore the community’s clear and unambiguous rejection of their plans,” Mr Gregory said.

Bungendore residents survey the proposal

Bungendore residents survey the proposal for a high school in the town. Photo: Michael Weaver.

Concerns have also been raised regarding the car parking area for the Bungendore Scout Hall, which is affected by the high school proposal.[1]

A motion by Councillor Peter Marshall at the last Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council meeting on 26 May to seek a report on options for the Bungendore Scout Hall was passed unanimously.

In seconding the motion, Cr Peter Harrison said there had been far too little consideration given to “the ad-hoc nature” of the planning process for the high school.

“I’m perfectly happy to be asking these sorts of questions now rather than trying to fix these problems further down the track when we’ve got fewer options available,” Cr Harrison said.

READ ALSO Jerrabomberra residents frustrated at lack of clarity over high school

Associate Professor Mark Lintermans, an environmental expert at the University of Canberra, said it was regrettable the dispute may end up in the courts unless the state government listens to the community.

“We’re well connected to some of the top law firms in the country. This is the sort of public interest litigation they love taking on, and now they can,” he said.

The Save Bungendore Park Group also says there is conjecture over support for the high school after an information session organised by the Department of Education on 11 May had “a steady stream of local residents challenging the Department about very obvious problems and expressing their disappointment with the plan”. This was despite Member for Monaro John Barilaro claiming there was overwhelming support for the high school.

Last year, the Department of Education conducted a community engagement survey that claimed 80 per cent of 74 respondents expressed a positive sentiment to build the new high school in Bungendore. A further 89 per cent said the high school would benefit the local community, while 74 per cent said the location for the high school is appropriate.[2]

“I’ve spoken to parents and even kids who will be attending this high school and they can’t wait for their new school to open,” Mr Barilaro said following the May meeting. “This high school will be a game-changer for Bungendore and surrounds and will benefit generations to come.”

CORRECTIONS: [1] Initial reporting stating the Bungendore Scout Hall would have to relocate has been corrected. [2] The Department of Education survey had 74 respondents, not 700 as originally stated.

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savebungendorepark9:58 pm 07 Jun 21

That’s an interesting observation regarding the community engagement survey conducted at the “Information Hub” back in September.

They set up a meetings on the primary school grounds and spoke to only a tiny proportion of the Bungendore community.

We looked at the records from that survey. While they found 54 people who “felt [Bungendore Park] was an appropriate site”, only 36 of those people “strongly agreed.”

On the basis of that, the Department has claimed that there was “overwhelming support” for the project, without acknowledging that it was based on a tiny sample size, many of whom were only luke-warm.

In the meantime, we’ve collected around 500 signatures on a petition opposing the plan, while a significant majority of community submissions to Council’s proposed closure of Majara Street opposed closing the road (and by inference, the plan to turn it into a school).

bungendoreresidents9:40 pm 08 Jun 21

Can you confirm that all 500 signatures on your petition are in fact from local residents?
And what of all those residents who are in full support of the proposed location, but did not feel the need to attend the information hub as we are satisfied with the detailed information that has been regularly circulated from NSW Schools Infrastructure? Or those who have provided feedback via other avenues
There are plenty of people in the community who do NOT share the sentiments of the Park Action Group.

savebungendorepark12:37 am 09 Jun 21

Thank you for the question, “bungedoreresidents”.

All hard copy signatures were collected in the town. Some have addresses in Wamboin or other parts of the shire. The online petition is open to anyone but we don’t know why it would be of interest to anyone outside the district. We haven’t promoted it to any significant degree (and certainly not outside the area), so we don’t expect it has circulated any wider.

The one genuinely open and transparent part of this process was undertaken by QPRC, calling for submissions on the Majara Street closure. We know that of the 160+ community submissions received, a significant majority opposed closing the road (and by extension, opposed the high school).

Murray Watson5:58 pm 07 Jun 21

Just a couple of corrections:
The plan does not intend to take most of the common, but it does intend to take most of the off leash area on the common.
A bigger one though is that the community support figures at the end are not correct. The community has majority support for a high school in Bungendore, but the 74% support for the site was taken not from the 700 respondents, but a much smaller sample size of 74. This means that the so called “overwhelming support” was in fact the voice of less than 0.5 percent of the Bungendore population.

Carolyn Cole5:46 pm 07 Jun 21

If the school is delayed, that will be down to Council and the Department of Education. At the most recent community hub meeting the Department of Education’s spokesperson stated emphatically that there is no plan B. How can this be so for a supposedly high priority infrastructure project for which the land required has not been secured and DA processes not even commenced? Incidentally, not one of the Dept of Education representatives was aware that developments have aleady started on new sub divisions which will quadruple Bungendore’s population in accordance with QPRC’s structure plan. They conceded that the propsed site for the new school would not be able to accommodate the increase in student numbers that this kind of growth will bring. Planning 101?

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