“Avoid mistakes”: Community calls for new schools in Arden amid rapid growth
The state government’s lack of preparedness in the redevelopment of North Melbourne’s Arden precinct has been criticised as “short-sighted” as plans for a new school have only just begun to be scoped out.
The 44-hectare Arden precinct is forecast to experience significant change over the next 15 to 30 years, but as it currently stands, there is only one primary school and no secondary schools in the area.
Melbourne Greens MP Ellen Sandell is calling for swift and effective measures to ensure the educational needs of the community were met before the situation became a crisis, noting the precinct was projected to be home to 20,000 residents by 2050.
Ms Sandell told a public accounts and estimates committee hearing on November 22, a process which aims to improve the accountability of Victorian government departments, that neighbouring schools were at, or nearing, capacity.
She stressed the government mustn’t make the same mistakes as Docklands Primary School, which reached capacity after opening in 2021, forcing the government in recent months to rent a space at a nearby shopping centre to hold additional classrooms as a temporary solution.
“How do we avoid that at Arden? What is the provision for schools looking like? Twenty thousand people [in Arden] is like a big regional city,” Ms Sandell said at the hearing, warning the government’s approach was “short-sighted” if it did not act quickly.
According to the Arden Structure Plan released in July 2022, a government primary school and a community centre has been mooted for “Arden Central” on Laurens St, adjacent to the future Metro Tunnel Arden station, which is currently under construction and expected to open in 2025.
The plans also propose an “additional government secondary school” to service Arden North-Macaulay (nestled between North Melbourne and Kensington), which would be “required to meet the needs of the new community”.
However, a timeline for when either school would be built remained unclear with funding dependent on a “future state budget”. Land for where the secondary school would be located is also unknown.
North Melbourne Primary School is the only school in the area with the state government having succumbed to community pressure to build a second campus next to the school, which opened in early 2023 to meet demand.
In response to Ms Sandell’s question at the hearing, Natalie Reiter, deputy secretary of strategy and precincts at the Department of Transport and Planning, said there was land planned for a school with “significant conversations” having been held with the Victorian School Building Authority.
Ms Reiter said this included “what that school would look like, the land area required and the need to have a model similar to that at Fishermans Bend, where the school children can access the neighbouring park area for play and recreation”.
However, Ms Sandell said “this is another example of the Victorian Labor Government prioritising developer profits over the needs of our communities”.
At the very least, the Labor Government should be planning for multiple primary schools and a high school in Arden, so that we don’t have an expensive disaster on our hands later on.
West Melbourne parent Mary Masters, whose two children attend Docklands Primary School, said if a new school was to be built in Arden tomorrow, “we would fill it immediately; we’re not waiting for more apartments to come online”.
“If there was more local capacity for primary schools and especially if we had a new high school come online in the area that would be just so beneficial,” she told North West City News.
As a member of the North and West Melbourne Association, Ms Masters said it was hoped that pressure would be put on the government “to come up with a plan for the E-gate site”, which they “see that as a new greenfield for education” that should be “developed appropriately”.
The E-gate site is 20-hectare parcel of state-owned land in West Melbourne that has been earmarked as a proposed urban renewal redevelopment.
RMIT University emeritus professor of planning and environment Michael Buxton told North West City News it was concerning the government was “not learning from their mistakes” such as planning for public services in Docklands.
“The obvious solution to this is to reserve all the public services that you need for the land at lower prices,” he said.
“If you don’t do this at the rezoning stage you have to pay enormous extra amounts for public infrastructure later because the value of the land goes up, so the government creates its own problems.”
Prof. Buxton said another problem the government faced was “finding solutions such as so-called vertical schools” which was touted “as a modern solution” but was “totally insufficient”.
“They [government] can’t afford to buy enough land with proper playing space and so on, so they end up having to build highly urbanised schools in high rises,” he said, adding it would create a “whole lot of undesirable effects down the track from the bad decisions being made initially.”
City of Melbourne Deputy Lord Mayor and planning chair Nicholas Reece said, “We look forward to working with the Victorian government as we build the high-quality amenity that the new residents of Arden will rightly expect and should receive.”
“Melbourne is very proud of its standing as one of the world’s most liveable cities, and that includes world-class public services like health and education”. •