Opinion piece by UDIA WA CEO Tanya Steinbeck, published in The West Australian

Proposed amendments to the State Government’s school sites policy will add significant costs and undermine housing affordability, argues Tanya Steinbeck

Local schools are more than just a place of learning. They are an important part of the social fabric of our community. Schools bring family and friends together to meet and socialise. Many community-based activities occur in and around our schools.

That is why it is so important that we get planning for future school sites right.

The cost, size, timeliness and location of schools can have a lasting impact on a community and for new homebuyers, there can also be financial implications.

Because of the way that funding is arranged for new school sites, the burden generally falls on new homebuyers to foot the bill, even in existing areas where current residents may benefit.

The decision-making around where and when schools are built is governed by an outdated State policy which is under review, with a draft recently released for comment. The relevant policy addresses when a new school is required, criteria for the selection of sites, requirements for the design and location of school sites and the method for calculating developer contributions for government primary schools.

Put very simply, developers are required to provide land for the development of a school at the outset of development at a ratio of one primary school for every 1500 lots to be built and a secondary school for every 6000 lots (or make a proportional monetary contribution at those rates).

The estate where a school is located is also required to provide all the necessary infrastructure to support a school, such as power and water, roads, foot and cycle paths and parking bays around a school site.

This ultimately means that new homebuyers foot the bill for a new school upfront, but may not benefit until much later down the track, if ever.

The reality is that we have some situations in new areas where homebuyers have essentially paid for a new school that is then not delivered for 10 years or more. Or in new areas we have tiny subdivisions paying large contributions towards the expansion of a school that are not necessarily proportionate to the extra demand (if any) that they are creating.

The school sites policy was published in 1998 and there have been continuing issues between developers and the Department of Education, particularly in relation to the consistency and transparency of decision-making, time frames for the delivery of the schools in question and how costs are calculated.

What has been disappointing is that the new policy does not address the issues that industry has been experiencing. The draft does not provide greater clarity and the proposed arrangements concerning developer contribution schemes lack transparency.

UDIA is concerned that the proposed amendments will add significant additional costs that will undermine housing affordability.

The development industry wants to be part of a fair partnership to deliver great schools to our local communities. I think it is time we ensured that the process is fair and equitable for all stakeholders.