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Parents campaign for Docklands school despite State Government snub

The State Government has again ignored the pleas of frustrated parents for a school in Melbourne’s Docklands, despite investing $500 million for new schools in growth areas.  

Words by Cristina Natoli
 
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Twelve new schools are to be built in suburbs including Cranbourne, South Morang, Epping and Pakenham, along with three in the Greater Gelong region, according to measures contained in the State Budget.

But the decision has angered parents in the Docklands who say the Government is neglecting their children’s education.

Currently, Docklands’ students must travel to neighbouring suburbs for their schooling. But with North Melbourne and Albert Park Primaries having reached capacity, some are needing to travel as far as Carlton.

With the number of school-aged children living in the waterside precinct tipped by the Melbourne City Council to rise to 850 by 2016, parents argue that urgent action is required. 

Janine Standfield, a parent and active member of the Docklands Community Forum accused the Government of “abdicating its responsibilities.” 

The Forum, which speaks for residents, business operators and workers, wrote to the Government last year calling for a new Docklands school “as a matter of urgency.” The schooling issue topped a list of 38 priorities nominated by the Forum.

The Government is “abdicating its responsibilities”. — Janine Standfield, Docklands parent

“There is no primary school in the Docklands and the schools closest to the Docklands neighbourhood are already at their ceiling capacity and have reduced their neighbourhood zone boundaries,” Ms Standfield wrote on behalf of the group. “ The Docklands community is denied support in this regard.”

Ms Standfield said the Forum had been pleased that the southern end of the Docklands could now access Port Melbourne primary. However, Leader newspapers recently reported that student numbers have already outstripped available space at the Port Melbourne school.

The Two Schools Now lobby group has been campaigning for additional schools in the Port Phillip area. While the Government has been slow to commit, $5 million was allocated in the State Budget for planning and site preparation for a new South Melbourne Primary School in Ferrars Street. The school is expected to be completed before 2017.

While the new school should alleviate some of the pressure on enrolments in the area, it does not alter the picture for Docklands parents.

The president of Two Schools Now, Alanna Vaz, told The Citizen: “The Government hasn’t heard the message from the people of Docklands. It is their right to have access to a local public school. A school is the soul of a community and helps communities to thrive.”

Ms Standfield added that the situation was disappointing for families that were currently living in the Docklands and said that many would have no choice but to move to other suburbs so that their children could attend school.

According to Places Victoria, the urban renewal authority that oversees the development of Docklands, a site in Digital Harbour has been reserved for a future school, but a lack of funding is delaying the process.

“The Government hasn’t heard the message from the people of Docklands. It is their right to have access to a local public school.” — Alanna Vaz, of Two Schools Now

Simon Wilson, general manager of precincts urban renewal at Places Victoria, said: “Places Victoria undertook a tender process in 2013 to secure a provider for a school in the Docklands. However, this was unsuccessful. We are continuing discussions with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development regarding the possible provision of a public school in Docklands.”

The Education Department declined to comment.  Meanwhile, Two Schools Now says it will continue its campaign for a second school and suggests it kindred spirits in the Docklands community could follow its example.

“We have presented a petition with 1000 signatures, held two public meetings, and have lobbied four times with residents sending letters,” Ms Vaz said. “We completely believe that our public profile has made a big difference in forcing the Government’s decision, in particular encouraging families to post letters. 

“Receiving hundreds of letters within weeks helps to force a response. I think a similar campaign would help Docklands.”

Construction of the Docklands began in 1997 and when the Docklands is completed around 2025 it is expected to cover an area twice the size of the CBD and be home to 20,000 people. More than 60,000 people are expected to work in the precinct.

The Docklands Community and Place Plan, which was launched in July 2012 by Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle and the Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, lists as a priority a public primary school for Docklands, as well as a family services centre. The Docklands’ website states that its creators envisage that 44 per-cent of Docklands building structures will be residential at its completion.

Ms Standfield said the numbers suggested “the Government does envisage that Docklands is a community that welcomes families and that there is a need for local services including schools to be located close to where people live.” 

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