Secret talks on Chch school land swaps

TINA LAW
Last updated 05:00 25/02/2013

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Secret meetings have been going on for months between the Ministry of Education and Christchurch City Council staff about possible land swaps to accommodate proposed school mergers.

The news has upset Phillipstown School principal Tony Simpson, who said he had no idea the ministry was considering obtaining Woolston Park as part of his schools' proposed merger with Woolston School. He said the first he heard of it was in the ministry's report on the proposed merger of the school released last week.

"I am very keen for further information because I'm very concerned that this seems to look predetermined . . . It's highlighting a flawed process."

A ministry report on the proposed merger said "the ministry is in discussions with the Christchurch City Council and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority about a possible land swap for the Woolston Park site that is located next to Woolston School. This would give options for an education hub on the larger site".

When questioned further on the topic, ministry deputy secretary Katrina Casey said technically the park was not needed to accommodate Phillipstown School, but it could be a future option.

She said no official discussions had occurred.

She would not say if the ministry was considering a land swap to acquire any more land to accommodate any other school proposal.

Council transport and greenspace unit manager John Mackie said the council had been involved in discussions with the ministry since late last year, as there was the potential for the school reorganisations to have an affect on some of the city's parks and other greenspace.

"Our discussions with the ministry are ongoing as the reorganisation plans are finalised, but no decisions have yet been made that would affect any park or greenspace."

Councillor Yani Johanson said council staff had no political mandate to talk to the ministry about land swaps.

He said it was not appropriate for council staff to get involved in negotiating with the ministry and it should go through the normal channels.

"To me that is something councillors should make a decision on through a public process, not a rushed process."

He was concerned the council seemed to be supporting the ministry's decisions by entering into these discussions.

"We are the ones that set the strategic direction of the city."

Hagley-Ferrymead Community Board deputy chairwoman Islay McLeod said the board was only told about the possibility of a land swap when Simpson asked the board about it at its meeting on Wednesday last week.

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"It strikes me as being pre-emptive," she said.

"It's unfortunate the Ministry of Education has recorded unofficial discussions in their own document."

A Cera spokeswoman said Cera was aware of discussions between council and the ministry around potential future land requirements, but Cera had not been asked to play any role in this to date.

- The Press

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