The Prime Minister and the local politicians may disagree, but the Ministry of Education is adamant: there is no need for a new school on the Unitec land.
The Government deal to buy 29ha of the huge block for housing offers an opportunity for at least a primary school within a development that will create a town around the size of Te Awamutu or double the population of Kerikeri.
But the ministry and its demographers remain unmoved, even though Mt Albert schools are running at capacity.
Two weeks ago, the ministry reaffirmed its stance to Mt Albert Inc – that the future population of the Unitec development can be handled by Waterview Primary, Avondale Intermediate and Avondale College.
Asked today if that position remained following the Government announcement that it has bought the Unitec land for a vast housing development, the ministry had a simple answer: “Yes.”
Which didn’t seem to quite match the fine Government words, articulated by Jacinda Ardern and Housing Minister Phil Twyford, of creating a community – “a place for people to put down roots and to live, work, learn and play, for generations to come”, as the minister put it.
“Learn” seemed to suggest a school or schools on the land, and the Prime Minister later mentioned the “s” word. But someone forgot to tell the bureaucrats in Wellington.
It will probably be two or three years before the first homes are built on the site and it may be as long as eight or 10 years before the bulk of the property is developed.
Forgotten in the weight of the weekend announcement is the additional influence, in a population sense, of several blocks of land owned by Ngati Whatua along the western perimeter.
The iwi already has subdivision consent for a portion of the land, which could produce a total of perhaps 500 or 600 apartments or terraced homes – on top of the “up to 4000” units suggested for the Government’s 29ha.
That makes, potentially, around 4500 new homes for the entire block – yielding at its completion in 10 or 12 years a population of 12,000 or so, and growing.
Where will all those kids go? has been the constant refrain from parents who look at the bloated rolls of existing schools and a growing local population under Special Housing Area and Unitary Plan rules.
The original, pre-election, plan by Unitec to sell its unwanted land to private developers to provide the funding for its own on-site project was obviously passed by the ministry’s executives – and rejected – before the proposal took final shape.
And now that the Labour coalition has stepped in, it may not be too late for a rethink, though 2ha for a new primary school would take a sizeable chunk out of the Government holding.
Dr Peter Haynes, chair of the Albert Eden Local Board, welcomes a development that “seriously confronts the housing problem” and thinks most Mt Albert people accept the need for affordable houses on the land.
But the development raises important infrastructural issues that need to be carefully managed – like transport, traffic, stormwater and sewage – as well as social and community areas like parks and schools.
The ministry’s confidence that Waterview School can cope with primary children from the Unitec land as well as other growth in the area is “far from optimal”, says Dr Haynes, and the board thinks a new school is needed on the land.
He calls the ministry’s position a “quick fix solution” and says Waterview School would need to build new classrooms out over present green space – “and kids deserve green space”.