Pushing for a new school in Ultimo

October 23, 2014. Question without Notice
Jamie continued his campaign for a new school in Ultimo by questioning the Minister for Education in Parliament.

The SPEAKER: Order! The member will be heard in silence.

Mr JAMIE PARKER: My question is addressed to the Minister for Education. What will the Government do to work proactively with the City of Sydney to expedite the urgently needed new school for Ultimo?

Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI: I am pleased to confirm that in November last year the Inner City Schools Working Party agreed upon a list of options for a new school in the Pyrmont and Ultimo area to cater for student demand into the future. The most preferred option was a proposal to build a new, larger primary school for Ultimo Public School in the Ultimo-Pyrmont area on land owned by the City of Sydney located in Wattle Street, Ultimo. The department established a project reference group and commenced the planning for the new school. Unfortunately, negotiations with City of Sydney for acquisition of the site are not progressing as well as we would have liked. The department has a number of concerns, including that during due diligence the proposed site has been found to be highly contaminated. This fact is not in dispute but what is now in dispute is the level of decontamination required.

The department has engaged independent experts and NSW Public Works to establish the estimated costs to remediate the site to a level acceptable for a school. City of Sydney council has taken a position that it is only willing to consider decontamination works suitable for a commercial development. Of course, the department always places the safety of students and staff as its highest priority. It will not compromise on reducing the level of remediation works that are necessary for a school site by adopting a minimalist approach. It is unacceptable that the students of Ultimo will be made to use a school that is contaminated to a greater degree than is acceptable anywhere else in the State. Further, the department understands the condition that council wants is to base the value of the site at its highest and best use, not at the lower price if it were valued as an educational site.

Dr Geoff Lee: So it wants it both ways?

Mr ADRIAN PICCOLI: Yes. However, this puts the cost of the land at more than double its value as a school site—which is, of course, its intended purpose. It has also been agreed that a reduction in price will be made for contamination. However, the department has very high standards for decontamination, for understandable reasons, and council is insisting that the department accepts a lower standard, something the department has rejected. I assure the House that the department and the Government are committed to building a new school for the Ultimo-Pyrmont community in the electorate of the member, servicing students from the electorate of Balmain and working hard to have the new school delivered.

I can assure the House that the department is not sitting idly by. However, if council is unwilling to accept the department's offer of a purchase price that recognises the proper level of decontamination required for a school, the department will need to go back to the community to find an alternative site. One issue has been the difficulty of securing a site in the inner city. This process would make the potential 2017 opening date impossible to meet. I have asked for council's assistance with the negotiations to ensure a new school for the area is open for the start of the 2017 school year. The department has worked with other councils in the past to ensure that appropriate education facilities are provided where required.

As an example, the City of Canada Bay Council has worked closely with the department in providing a site at peppercorn rent for a primary school at Victoria Avenue, Concord West. This will deliver much-needed facilities that will be shared by the school and local community. I assure the House and the member that this Government is committed to the provision of high-quality public education and the facilities to support its delivery. We are working with the community to ensure that there are adequate and appropriate facilities for this to occur. I thank the member for the question.

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