One Reply to “Finding an Alternative to Demolition and sell off the Old Primary School”

  1. POSTED ON BEHALF OF A KYNETON RESIDENT

    I’m responding to the opinionated views of the Kyneton resident published today on your Town Square Conversation Blog
    It seems obvious that the state government only sees the primary school site in terms of a land sale hopefully worth a couple of million. The state government has obviously calculated that a cleared site (with the exception of the heritage school which can’t be demolished) will produce a larger financial return than a site dominated by a former large school building, which would limit the scope of prospective developers bidding for ownership of the site. The state government’s plan to clear the site prior to sale is an unspoken invitation to developers to build on the site.

    This sale to bidding developers may help the state government’s ledger in a small way, but it will create a major loss of town character and pride of place for Kyneton. It is certain that the developer who outbids everyone else for ownership of the site will not be able to achieve a return on his investment just by utilising the small bluestone school. So demolishing the school’s modern addition will guarantee a nearly blank canvas for new commercial development of the site.

    The contemporary development paradigm is to maximise the return on the land investment by stacking the site with as much real estate as the developer can get away with. This sort of development would be inappropriate for the schoolhouse site, as it is within the very centre point of the town, and boarded on two sides by a residential neighborhood.

    Kyneton is a town which was never planned. It grew up around the random walking track and bullock team road to the goldfields, with rows of small shops crowded close to both sides of the main road. Unlike most towns, Kyneton has never had any open public/community space at its centre. Apart from a tiny patch of land next to the war memorial, which has the feel of a walk-through area rather than a town square, there is no town square or welcoming open-air public meeting place in Kyneton. In Europe, every little town has a town square at its centre serving as public open space and as a psychological focal point for the town. Town/city squares play a very important role in urban areas. They are the last residues of common land. The relocation of the primary school offers a once-only grand opportunity to redress this major deficiency in Kyneton’s town fabric.

    Kyneton is in need of a physical and social heart which it has always lacked. It would therefore be bad planning and totally inappropriate to allow a major private development of the schoolhouse site. This is a site which is clearly needed by the council and community for much-needed social and psychological amenity in Kyneton.

    Both the state government and council need to be made aware of the inappropriateness of the private development of a former central Kyneton community asset, which every born-and-bred Kyneton resident spent many years of life on a daily basis physically occupying the site. I would suggest your group ask the community-passionate Deb Dunn for proactive preliminary town planning representation to the state government and council.

    The state government has a governing duty to practice best practice and to have reasonable consideration for its constituents. If the state government pulls out of a town leaving a vacuum intended to be filled by private development on a site in the very centre of a town which has no open public space in the centre of town, and which is bordered on two sides by a residential neighborhood, this would be manifestly negligent town planning.

    Furthermore, the Kyneton primary school is not like any ordinary primary school. The Kyneton primary school site is unusual in that it occupies a site which is where a town square would be located if Kyneton had a town square. The state government needs to recognise this unusual situation. It is not a standard school disposal sale. It should not routinely dispose of the town centre to a private developer.

    For the state government to abandon this site to the greed cult of private developers is not best practice, or even good practice, since the site is a sensitive one and its highest value is as a community asset. The state government’s intentions are therefore governmentally negligent – equivalent to throwing the residents of Kyneton to the sharks. The state government’s intention will inevitably leave behind a trail of destruction to the town’s fabric and the town’s character. Developers are profit machines. That is their nature. Developers are not philanthropists. They can’t afford to develop a site in the interests of all town residents, although they always try to spin their plans that way.

    Developers are only concerned about escaping from the town with the maximum amount of profits they can get away with. This is what is wrong with contemporary town planning. It’s all about controlling developers’ greed rather than about designing what would be best for the public morale and the public amenity. Selling off central public spaces to developers is irresponsible governance, because the inevitable outcome will be a monument to private profit rather than public amenity.

    The council has spent a lot of ratepayers’ money recently expanding its own accommodation in Gisborne. Would it have been too much to expect of the council to have bought the Kyneton school site and used these buildings to accommodate the expansion of council office space? The council knew that the Kyneton school site was scheduled to be vacated at the time it spent all that money enlarging its own accommodation in Gisborne. Wouldn’t it have been better policy for the council to have moved into the vacant school buildings in Kyneton? At least these buildings would then have remained for a type of community use.

    Instead we in Kyneton are left with another looming crisis of private overdevelopment of an inappropriate site, which is also what happened when the state government sold the high-public-value old Kyneton hospital site for private development. Private developers cannot afford to create a public space which would enhance community amenity. The sacred principle of maximising profit gets in the way. Only governments can afford to develop a public space in such a way as to enhance public amenity.

    I would suggest that your group apply for federal funding to buy the school site from the state government if the state government persists in flogging the site for private development, which would clearly be asking for trouble, and a major loss of public amenity in Kyneton. Assuming a community group is not eligible to apply for federal funding, the council should make that application on behalf of residents.

    If the state government is so keen on demolishing a centrally located, useful modern building in excellent condition, at the very least the demolition should be only acceptable to the community if the school site were to be dedicated to public open space in the centre of town, to redress an historic town planning incompetence in Kyneton, which has never had any focal open space in the town centre since it was founded more than 150 years ago. At the moment Woolworths parking lot is the nearest thing to a town square in Kyneton’s CBD.

    The idea of a residents’ jury is a good one, as the council doesn’t get many things right. The existing “town square” between the Mechanics Building and Best & Less is not very inviting. It is mostly asphalt, the same surface as shopping centre car parks have. Those concrete bulwarks in front of the Mechanics Building which are supposed to be bench backrests are very brutal and uninviting. It would have been possible to have made the most of this small public space, but instead the council made the least of it.

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