07/05/2021 - 15:53

School, community collide over land

07/05/2021 - 15:53

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One of Perth's top private schools could be in for a windfall gain of tens of millions of dollars if the full potential value of its sporting fields is realised, but it will have to navigate community objection first.

School, community collide over land
CCGS is hoping to consolidate its sporting facilities. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

One of the state’s top private schools could be in for a windfall gain of tens of millions of dollars if the full potential value of its sporting fields is realised, but it will have to navigate community objection first.

A number of key obstacles will have to be overcome if Christ Church Grammar School is to sell its Mount Claremont Playing Fields site in order to fund the proposed $20 million expansion of its John’s Wood Playing Fields nearby, which includes the acquisition of the adjacent former Brockway Landfill site.

Obstacles include navigating planning laws and potentially rezoning the Mount Claremont Playing Fields site, which runs along McClemans Road and Fortview Road and borders the Bold Park nature reserve – a proposition which has been met with opposition from nearby residents.

Business News understands the 8.3 hectare landholding was initially purchased by the Perth Diocesan Trustees, as trustees for CCGS, in 1959 for 15,000 pounds, with the title later issued in the name of the school in 1971 (for around the same value, $30,000) after it had been separately incorporated.

CCGS expects to generate at least $20 million from the sale, if a deal is to go ahead, but that is likely to be a conservative estimate based on recent sales of residential properties in the area and the overall size of the land parcel.  

An apartment complex or other development could further enhance its value, especially with views across a nature reserve, if the land’s designated parks and recreation use is rezoned.

Last week, news of CCGS actively seeking to rezone its land in Mount Claremont was brought to light, after a letter was sent to a group of residents.

The letter followed CCGS’s proposal to rezone its Mount Claremont Playing Fields site last year when it submitted an amendment to the Town of Cambridge’s draft Local Planning Strategy, lodging a proposal for it to be considered a potential future development site.

In October 2020, the Western Australian Planning Commission dismissed the school’s late submission as it had not at that point held any discussions with the Town of Cambridge or residents – a process the WAPC said the school must follow.

Some local residents are unhappy with the revelations, last week’s letter coming months after the WAPC meeting in October.

Local resident and CCGS alumni Andrew Bath called the school’s move last year an attempt to bypass the town’s Local Planning Strategy process.

“The school’s actions to date have not demonstrated a commitment to transparency and due process,” Mr Bath told Business News.

“The engagement last week from Christ Church to a handful of residents was, in my opinion, little more than a PR campaign so that Christ Church could claim to the school community that it was acting properly and in accordance with due process.”

CCGS principal Alan Jones has defended calls for the school to have conducted community consultation earlier.

“The school needed certainty and wanted to finalise the negotiations on the Brockway site with the government prior to commencing a consultation process with the Mount Claremont community,” he said.

“This negotiation has taken longer than expected and therefore held up the consultation with the community with greater certainty.”

Mr Jones said now that the school had commenced community consultation with neighbouring residents, it planned to answer queries then take feedback gathered through the process to the Town of Cambridge prior to putting together a proposal to institute a Scheme Amendment Request.

Mr Bath said residents were also concerned about what undertakings CCGS had obtained from the state government about rezoning.

“That the school council is willing to commit school funds for the old tip site, without any certainty on rezoning the Mount Claremont playing fields, suggests to the community that the school is confident it can circumvent the Town of Cambridge and the community, to achieve the outcome it wants,” Mr Bath said.

“We would like some transparency from the state government about what rezoning undertakings it has provided to Christ Church as part of the proposed tip purchase; why would the state government help Christ Church carve up historical and precious green space, solely so that the school can add tens of millions more to its already privileged endowment?”  

A state government spokesperson told Business News an amendment to the local planning scheme would be required to change the land use and would also be subject to approval of the Planning Minister.

A move to rezone the land may also have to take into consideration the provisions of the Town of Cambridge Endowment Lands Act 1920, which was created to earmark land designated for community benefit, with any proceeds of land sales to be placed in a trust fund.

Planning nuances

CCGS’s land title for the Mount Claremont Playing Fields site is governed by that Act.

However, under the Act there is an interpretation clause that Mr Jones said the school understood as to mean it was exempt from some of the conditions of the Act; as CCGS was the registered proprietor of the land, not the Town of Cambridge.

“The school own the freehold title like the neighbouring residential properties, so as with individual property owners, the school has the same rights of a normal freehold title,” he said.

Business News contacted the state government to clarify that interpretation of the Act.

“If we develop 15 hectares of an old landfill site into playing fields the School would then manage nearly 25 hectares of playing fields up at St John’s Wood, which would mean that the Mt Claremont land would be surplus to our requirements,” Mr Jones said.

“The primary reason for the school considering its options with this site is that it is surplus land… not the revenue that a sale could generate.

“The reality is the school can’t continue to incur the costs of maintaining 8.3 hectares of playing fields and the pavilion with parents fees in perpetuity when it isn’t using the site.”

Mr Jones said that the school would consider an approach from any party interested in buying the site, including the Town of Cambridge.

Expansion plans

The Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage confirmed it was finalising CCGS’s acquisition of the former Brockway landfill site, to facilitate the school’s expansion of the St John’s Wood Playing Fields.

A state government spokesperson told Business News that parcel of Crown land was heavily constrained and not suitable for market release.

“It has been identified as a suitable site for future public open space and sports use. Development of this site as playing fields will create a shared space for sport and recreation pursuits in the western suburbs,” the spokesperson said.

“Under the terms of the transfer, future use of the land is for a prescribed use only being public purpose and Christ Church Grammar School will be required to undertake remediation of the site.

“A shared use arrangement is also required between the City of Nedlands and CCGS to ensure that public access to the playing fields is maintained, particularly when the facilities are not being used for school activities.”

CCGS said it wanted to consolidate its playing fields, rather than be spread across multiple sites.

More to come.

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