Education Minister dumps inner-city primary school

The Department of Education has given the City of Sydney and the community last-minute notice that it will not proceed with purchasing land in Ultimo for a new primary school.

In December 2014, three months before the state election, Education Minister Adrian Piccoli announced that:

Agreement has been reached for a new public school serving the inner city to be built on a site to be purchased from the City of Sydney on the corner of Wattle, Jones and Fig Streets, Ultimo.

This agreement was reached after the City offered the Department an additional $8.5 million discount on the cost of the site. Despite the publicly-owned land being valued at more than $100 million, the City agreed to sell it to the NSW Government for $74 million.

The Education Minister's broken promise is failing the parents and children of Pyrmont and Ultimo. This betrayal from Adrian Piccoli leaves parents and children from across the inner-city in limbo.

City of Sydney staff have been working in good faith since August 2013 to make sure that this land could be sold to allow for a new primary school. Since the Minister's announcement in December that the purchase of the land would go ahead, our staff have tried repeatedly to finalise the sale.

The Department and the Minister were always aware that the site would require remediation. That is standard practice for any inner-city building site, especially ones like this that have been used for commercial or industrial purposes.

This backflip raises the question: was the Minister ever serious about this purchase, or was it simply an attempt to make the issue go away in the lead up to the March election?

The City and the Department of Education had already carried out contamination assessments onsite, including soil and groundwater investigations, to determine the required remediation work needed to meet current standards under the Contaminated Land Management Act. The City also prepared a Remediation Action Plan (RAP) that was reviewed and endorsed by a site auditor accredited by the NSW Environment Protection Agency (EPA).

Remediation costs were agreed to be $9.5 million, based on a scope of work that substantially exceeds guidelines from the EPA for an educational use. The Department of Education is now claiming the cost would be $53 million.

The City had also negotiated for an 80-place childcare centre to be constructed on the site, along with the primary school. The childcare centre was to be owned by the City and provide much needed childcare for local parents.

There is strong and continuing growth in the number of families with young children in the City. Forecasts indicate that in the next four years the number of primary-school aged children living in our Local Government Area will increase by 1,171.

The Pyrmont/Ultimo area has the highest population density in Australia, with over 14,000 people per square kilometre.

Stamp duty from the development boom in Pyrmont/Ultimo has already delivered the NSW Government huge contributions; it's time they delivered adequate services to this community.

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