A group of around 50 members of the Oakford community have strongly opposed a new K-12 school being built in their rural oasis.
A development application to build the school on the corner of Abernethy and Kargotich Roads was submitted by the Free Reformed Church School Association.
The campus is proposed to be built in two stages, with the senior school constructed first from 2028, and the junior school from 2032 onwards.
It would house up to 1200 students.
The school association CEO Dr Derek Swarts said the church currently operates five schools in WA, including one on Soldiers Rd, Byford, and that they intended to relocate the existing secondary school from its Armadale location to Oakford.
He said the church’s current schools are “land-locked and reaching their maximum capacity”.
“We’ve been a part of the Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale community for 25 years and we’re excited about becoming a larger part of this community for many years to come,” he said.
Officers for the Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale were not enthusiastic about the plan.
“The proposed development aligns with certain aspects of the planning framework and provides a land use that would potentially service and benefit the community. However, the development is considered to present an unacceptable impact to the local traffic network,” officers said.
A total of 63 public submission were received by the shire, with 44 of those objecting to, or raising concerns with, the proposal.
The objections raised included noise, traffic safety, privacy of nearby residents, access to groundwater, and that building a school there would not be in line with the rural character of the area.
Consultant David Read, on behalf of his client, said the traffic-related issues might not be such an issue with the shire’s proposed installment of a roundabout at the intersection of Abernethy and Kargotich Rds, which was postponed earlier this year due to cost blowouts.
He said the school is not due to be inhabited until at least 2030, at which time the roundabout might have already been constructed.
He explained that they were happy to meet the shire’s and community’s other objections with compromises and solutions, and requested the council recommend approval but with conditions attached.
A petition including 49 signatures objecting to the proposal was submitted at the eleventh hour by local resident Paul Speering.
Mr Speering also raised an impassioned and comprehensive objection in a deputation to council on Monday.
In his address he brought up concerns about the perceived benefits to the community this institution would bring.
“The majority of the members of this church, and therefore the only potential clients of this new school, live outside of the SJ Shire,” he said.
He quoted sections of the Perth and Peel @ 3.5 Million framework and the Shire’s own Local Planning Strategy which both outline the desire to protect rural land from the encroachment of urbanisation.
But perhaps most memorably, he outlined his objections to a large institution being built in his piece of rural paradise by quoting fictional lawyer Dennis Denuto from the Castle: “It’s the vibe of the thing, your honour.”
“Well, the vibe that I’m talking about is something that you can’t really measure, something you can’t quite put your finger on, but you can feel it, sense it, and you intrinsically know that it has a certain special quality,” he said.
“One of my favourite parts of that movie is where Bud Tingwell gives his closing address to the High Court. He talks about how you can buy a house, but not a home, because it isn’t built of bricks and mortar, but love and memories. It is those intangibles that make our little piece of Oakford our home, not just the place where we live. If the amenity is lost, if those intangibles are ripped away, then it will no longer be our home, it’ll just be the place that we live.
“I can’t deal with that. These last few weeks, with this life-changing proposal hanging over my head, have been horrendous. The anxiety, the stress, the feeling of dread that sweeps over me every time I drive past that site has almost destroyed me.”
Ultimately, the development application will be decided by the Metro Outer Joint Development Assessment Panel, but the council unanimously voted to recommend refusal of the submission in line with the conclusions of shire officers.