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.
Concerns have also been raised regarding the car parking area for the Bungendore Scout Hall, which is affected by the high school proposal.
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.
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.
“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:  Initial reporting stating the Bungendore Scout Hall would have to relocate has been corrected.  The Department of Education survey had 74 respondents, not 700 as originally stated.