Childcare centre’s future under cloud in erosion saga

There could be more troubled waters ahead for Stockton’s only childcare centre, with confirmation its closure will extend into next week. 

The Newcastle Herald revealed on Friday that the centre, run by Mission Australia, would be closed temporarily while it was in danger of crumbling into the surf. 

Mission Australia Early Learning general manger Ben Willliams confirmed the temporary closure would run into a second day. 

“We have made the decision to remain closed on Monday 22nd January due to the current weather predictions for Monday, that indicate further high tides and large swells,” he said. 

“Our first responsibility is to ensure the safety of children in our care, their families and our staff. Next week, we will reassess the situation and opening arrangements.” 

A strip of land, less than two metres wide, is the only buffer preventing the children’s play area from being swallowed by the sea. 

The deteriorating situation has brought decades of debate over Stockton’s erosion woes to a head. The saga can be traced back to the creation of breakwalls at the mouth of the Hunter River.

Newcastle council says it remains powerless to resolve the situation without state government funding, with an artificial headland an estimated $30 million. 

The state government refused to accept a plan put forward by the council in 2016, but said it was collaborating with the council on a revised proposal. 

“It’s not an issue we’re ignoring,” said Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald. “It is something we’re trying to address.” 

Parents were fearful the future of the centre was in jeopardy, saying that would create “a serious problem” for working families. 

It’s understood it is operating at full capacity, accommodating 44 children a day. 

"There is nowhere else that I know of in Stockton to get care, especially not for such a large number of families,” said Tina Battye, who works as an accountant in Newcastle.

Amanda Lardner, whose four-year-old son Sam attends the childcare centre, urged council to take charge.

"A lot of families rely on this service and it's disappointing that the council hasn't taken action to address the issue earlier," she said.

On Friday, it was also revealed an expert council tasked with advising the state government on coastal erosion has not had its first meeting, more than 18 months after legislation for its creation cleared State Parliament. 

In 2016, the state government announced a seven-person Coastal Council would be formed to give expert advice to the minister on coastal management, as part of the most significant reforms “since the 1970s”. 

Mr MacDonald announced the final membership of the council in November, but according to Port Stephens MP Kate Washington, the council is yet to have a meeting.  

“The government made a big announcement in 2016, but this issue has fallen off their radar,” she said. 

Dive deeper: Stockton erosion

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