‘Sold out for a roundabout’: Church-owned school gets the nod

‘Sold out for a roundabout’: Church-owned school gets the nod

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Lot 218, 575 Abernethy Rd is the site of the proposed K-12 Free Reformed Church campus.

Council has given its blessing to the Free Reformed School Association to build a new K-12 private college in Oakford, after they promised to cede a sizeable chunk of their lot and build a new roundabout at the intersection of Abernethy and Kargotich Rds.

The proposal for the 1200 student-capacity college was originally refused by both the SJ Shire and the Metro Outer Joint Development Assessment Panel (MODAP) on primary grounds that the extra traffic generated by the college would put too great a strain on the existing local road network.

Related article: Oakford residents say school will ruin their ‘vibe’

A lack of infrastructure for pedestrians was also highlighted as an impediment to approval of the proposal.

After being turned down, the FRSA took the matter to the State Administrative Tribunal with promises to rectify the main points of contention; by handing over more than 2000-square-metres of their lot for the construction of the roundabout, by taking financial responsibility for the construction of the roundabout (but requested the shire’s help in securing grant funding), and by constructing a pedestrian path along Abernethy Rd to connect with the Principle Shared Path outlined in the Tonkin Extension project.

After success with the SAT, the proposal was brought back to council for reconsideration on Monday last week.

Oakford resident Paul Speering again delivered a rousing speech objecting to the school, on behalf of himself, and 65 of his neighbours.

He was critical of the shire officers’ reassessment of the proposal, which he said ‘strangely’ left out all past concerns about the school’s ‘serious’ impact on the amenity of the local rural area.

“Has the ‘scale and degree’ of the development changed? No, it hasn’t.

“The only thing that has changed since the last time we were here is that the applicant has expressed an ‘intent’ to build a roundabout and a footpath.

“An ‘intent’ simply isn’t good enough and lacks the detailed and concrete plans that infrastructure central to this proposal needs,” he said.

“The issue is that a tripling of traffic at key times will still have a negative impact on the locality, regardless of the provision of a roundabout. The amenity impact is the volume of traffic, not the way it is managed.”

The Traffic Impact Assessment estimated an additional 700 vehicular movements during both morning and afternoon pick-up and drop-off times, with all traffic necessarily using the Kargotich/Abernethy intersection.

Mr Speering also questioned why a total of 564 carparks were proposed to be built at the site “when all that is legally required is 168”.

He said he strongly believed the FRSA planned on ‘co-locating’ a church at the school in future, with most of its other schools containing on-campus churches.

“Intensive use in the evenings and weekends is inconsistent with the usage envisaged under the rural zone,” he said.

Mr Speering also reiterated that only members of the Free Reformed Church are eligible for enrolment or employment by the FRSA, meaning the benefits of the proposal to the local community would be limited to a select few.

“I’m not opposing this out of hate, my motivations are quite the opposite. It’s actually a love story …

“I love the area I live in; I love the community we have built here, and I love the people who make up that wonderful community. I am merely responding to the potential destruction of something that I, and others opposed to this development, love,” he concluded.

Oakford resident Vanessa Reynolds also objected to the proposal for a number of reasons, and provided photographic evidence of traffic issues faced by Court Grammar School users as an example of what could potentially occur at this new school, which sits on a Regional Distributor Road.

If the proposal is approved by MODAP, a K-12 campus will be built on the corner of Abernethy and Kargotich Rds

She said a number of ‘inconsistencies’ were found in the 630-page planning report which proved the “application is far too immature to be requesting approval”, and asked for an independent peer review to be completed before a decision was made.

When it came time to debate the proposal, no councillors raised any objections to giving the green light, although Cr Nathan Bishop added two additional conditions of approval: that the school enter a shared user agreement with the shire for the broader community’s use of its oval and attached facilities; and the school establish a Community Reference Group “to act as an open and transparent forum for nearby landowners to discuss any issues or exchange any suggested solutions, to issues that may be impacting the amenity of the locality”.

The motion to recommend approval was passed unanimously, and the matter will now be determined by MODAP at a date yet to be set.

Paul Speering has expressed disappointment at council’s change of heart, believing they “sold out for a roundabout”.

“I know the shire is hard up for money right now, but selling out your ratepayers to a highly exclusionary tax-exempt establishment is not the way to do it, particularly when very few members of the shire will be able to make use of it,” he said.

“Why bother going through the charade of public advertising and submissions, when relevant feedback from residents and ratepayers is completely ignored, time and time and time again.

“The president and his council have failed to act in the best interests of the community they were elected to serve.”

Mr Speering was also angry that the community’s concerns about the FRSA potentially co-locating a church on the same campus were ignored.

“The green light has effectively been given to a religious organisation that openly and unapologetically practices Gay Conversion Therapy,” he said.

“The Free Reformed Church’s abhorrent views on sexuality and gender have absolutely no place in Oakford, the SJ Shire, or anywhere else for that matter.”

The Free Reformed Churches of Australia are a federation of 18 congregations: 16 in Western Australia, and two in Tasmania.

In 2021, pastor Dr Wes Bredenhof of the Free Reformed Church of Launceston, made headlines by admitting the church freely practised conversion therapy and “made no apologies about it”.

Despite both WA and Tasmanian governments making promises to ban gay conversion therapies, neither state has yet done so.