Australia — Parents and residents are furious with government plans to redevelop a Sydney school in a high fire danger zone.
The redevelopment of Manly Vale Public School on Sydney’s northern beaches has been with the state’s joint regional planning panel since January, after the former Warringah Council urged the Department of Education to withdraw its application for the $23 million redevelopment over environmental concerns.
The school’s fire safety evacuation plan shows that it would take up to 15 minutes for 18 buses to rescue hundreds of students from the school located on top of a ridge next to a category one fire zone, according to documents submitted to the council.
NSW Premier Mike Baird, who is the local MP, said: “We have been working closely with authorities regarding bushfire safety at the school and are satisfied the current plans will provide appropriate protection.”
Under the department’s current proposal, buildings for the 1000-student “super school” would be pushed further into bushland and away from key evacuation points.
The redevelopment of the school is needed to meet “urgent demand”, according to the department, with more demountables than classrooms currently being used to educate the school’s students.
While recognising the need for more classrooms, parents have urged the department to reconsider the planning proposal, which the department is attempting to get through the joint regional planning committee.
“Do not murder our children with this uniformed plan,” said parent Bel Maud.
“As a parent of a child at the school, and a resident living 70 metres from the school, I am not opposed to a new school, but I am against it being shoved unsafely into the Crown land.”
“This will be an accident waiting to happen, just move the buildings closer to the road and the students might have a chance to evacuate quickly.”
Resident Ellin Byrne said the current plans defied reason. The former Manly Vale student has started a petition against the development that has garnered more than 1600 signatures.
“Common sense will tell you that there is a safety issue putting classrooms on top of a ridge,” she said. “They are also stilted, with the potential for fire to burn under the classrooms.”
According to council documents, the NSW rural fire service has yet to approve a bush fire safety authority for the multimillion-dollar proposal.
On Tuesday, Premier Mike Baird was out promoting the service’s rural fire safety initiative to the state’s students at another school vulnerable to bushfires, Warrimoo Public School in the Blue Mountains.
“Unfortunately we are all familiar with the devastation a bushfire can cause and it is important that communities have a plan and know exactly what they will do,” Mr Baird said.
In January, the former Warringah Council, which has since been merged into the Northern Beaches Council, cited environmental concerns and impacts to threatened species as key reasons for its rejection.
The department had proposed clearing more than four hectares of bushland, threatening the habitats of the eastern pygmy possum, powerful owl, eastern bent-wing bat and the grey-headed flying fox.
Despite the protests of parents and council, the proposal looks set to be forced through by the department.
An assessment commissioned by the department found the land was not a conservation area and had no item of environmental heritage.