Education and Planning Minister Andrew Barr’s admission in recent days that he has already changed land use at some of the schools he closed raises serious questions of conflict of interest, breach of due process and misleading the public, according to the Save Our Schools group.
“It is extraordinary that Mr Barr has announced land use changes at school sites without public pre-notification of planning changes and before any announcement of the results of the consultation over the future use of closed schools”, says SOS spokesperson, Jane Tullis.
“These changes are just one more example of poor process and lack of genuine consultation and accountability that has plagued the school closures.”
The land use changes were announced by press release, with Mr Barr’s statement that: “planning changes will alter the land provisions on some sites, to ensure they can be used for community uses listed in the Territory Plan, including supportive housing, cultural facilities, child care and aged care”.
“Mr Barr’s claim that rezoning at school sites is needed to allow the schools to legitimately be used by community groups is untrue,” Mrs Tullis said. “There has been no specific school zoning on the Territory Plan, but rather the school sites are zoned as ‘community facilities’ and they can already be legitimately used for a variety of community uses.”
“The only exception is some open space at the schools was protected under the Territory Plan but no longer will be as a result of Mr Barr’s land use changes.
The need for this immediate removal is unclear unless Mr Barr wants to sell off or develop these areas. It certainly does not ‘lock in surplus schools for community use’ as claimed, and the community has the right to know at which closed schools this will apply.”
Such policy changes on the Territory Plan normally go through a formal public variation process rather simply be announced, according to Mrs Tullis. “While Mr Barr has promised that the new Territory Plan would be policy-neutral, the dropping of the open space protection (called the 4E Overlay) from former schools would prove this false as well.”
The Planning Minister’s action will also be in direct opposition to the overwhelming needs and desires of affected communities (expressed through the Purdon Process) to protect the schools and open space for use by the community including future use as schools, according to Mrs Tullis.
These are serious matters for ACT rate and taxpayers who have every right to ask further questions such as:
- Why is Mr Barr announcing changes to school sites when the TAMS department is supposed to be running an independent consultation for this through Purdon Associates?
- Why is Mr Barr dropping open space protection from some closed schools and not others?
- Why was the Purdon consultation rushed through so quickly, despite community protestations it was too short, yet three months after there is still no word from TAMS on the outcomes?
“As the Minister for Closing Schools, Andrew Barr has exposed himself and the Stanhope Government by not disqualifying himself from planning changes and announcements regarding the closed schools,” Mrs Tullis said.