A new town with as many as 3000 homes will be built on the Unitec land over the coming years, but the Ministry of Education has no plans there for a new secondary or primary school. Picture: Bruce Morris
The vast Unitec development will eventually find room for around 3000 new homes, but the Ministry of Education has no plans for a state secondary or primary school on the land.
The ministry believes it can “add capacity” to existing schools to accommodate children living there in the future.
The news – outlined in a response to an Official Information Act request from Mt Albert Inc – will surprise parents and school boards because local rolls are at historic highs.
Gladstone Primary is close to reasonable capacity and has asked the ministry for authority to remove the Unitec land from its present zone – allowing it to avoid a potential future blip from any new housing. Mt Albert Grammar School, meanwhile, is being forced to start some classes early next year because it can’t fit growing student numbers into its current classrooms within a normal school day.
But Katrina Casey, a deputy secretary at the ministry, says in a letter to this website: “I can confirm there are no plans to build any future [state] schools on the land in question.”
The ministry is “dealing with the associated growth in population projections resulting from Unitec’s proposal … by adding capacity to the existing school network”.
Avondale College can cope
She adds: “It is envisaged that primary school-aged students living in the precinct [the development is known as the Wairaka Precinct under the Unitary Plan] will enrol at Waterview Primary School, and that intermediate-aged students will be directed to Avondale Intermediate. The projected increase in the secondary student population will be able to be accommodated within the existing capacity of Avondale College.”
Ms Casey revealed a 2014 feasibility study looked at relocating Western Springs College on to the Unitec land. But the decision was taken to rebuild the school on its existing site.
Mt Albert Grammar principal Pat Drumm told the Herald’s Simon Collins in July that his roll was growing by 100 students a year through a combination of infill housing in the school zone and the school’s growing popularity against private school rivals.
“We are not able to control our growth,” he said. “We could look at reviewing our zone, but our bordering schools such as Avondale College, Auckland Grammar and Epsom Girls Grammar are also bursting at the seams. It needs a holistic Auckland-wide strategy.”
But Katrina Casey responded then by saying ministry planning now “does not indicate the need for a new secondary school in the Auckland isthmus”.
“Rather, we expect schools to reduce their out-of-zone enrolments first, then we will add capacity as required,” she said, adding that about a third of the 16,900 students in the isthmus secondary schools came from outside the school zones, including 23 per cent of Mt Albert Grammar students.
Falling out-of-zone rate
However, Mr Drumm said out-of-zone students were now “less than 20 per cent and falling” and he expected the out-of-zone percentage to be in single figures within three years.
The impact of the Wairaka Precinct population will not produce a sudden deluge of students. The final shape of the development may include 3000 terraced units, apartments and townhouses, but it will move in stages over many years.
While the ministry has ruled out any new state schools for the block, it is possible private schools could be built there. Following a suggestion from MARA at the final meeting of the community liaison group for the Wairaka proposal, the draft Integrated Transport Assessment (ITA) prepared by Unitec and Ngati Whatua to support the first development proposal (at the end of Laurel St) contains modelling that provides for a secondary school and a primary school.
Local town planner Craig Magee, who has worked with MARA as the project has developed, noted: “There appears to be conflicting information in terms of whether a school will be provided within the precinct.
“On one hand the Ministry of Education appear to have ruled it out. However as a school has been included in the modelling, it may mean any school in the precinct is private rather than public.”
– Bruce Morris
Go to this page for a backgrounder on the process creating the Wairaka Precinct.