Questions over ownership of former Hunter River Community School site

Concerned: Jenny Aitchison and shadow minister for lands Mick Veitch, who said the government "must clean this mess up - it's just not acceptable for the community". The site has not been used since 2014. Picture: Simone De Peak
Concerned: Jenny Aitchison and shadow minister for lands Mick Veitch, who said the government "must clean this mess up - it's just not acceptable for the community". The site has not been used since 2014. Picture: Simone De Peak

THE state government has been urged to guarantee it won’t sell off the neglected former Hunter River Community School site, amid confusion over which department is responsible for its maintenance.

Member for Maitland Jenny Aitchison and shadow minister for lands Mick Veitch visited the East Maitland site on Wednesday and demanded the government “come clean” about its plans for the land, which has been left locked and overgrown for four years.

“I’m asking the government to talk to the community about what should happen to this parcel in the first instance and to guarantee they won’t sell it until they’ve had those discussions,” Mr Veitch said. 

“Selling is a real possibility – they’re selling Crown land right across the state and trying to make it easier to dispose of Crown land, so the Minister for Lands and Forestry needs to actually come and stand here and say ‘We’re not going to sell it’. 

“There’s no guarantee that if sold the money will stay here. It will go to general revenue and fund the $2.5 billion for two stadiums in Sydney.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Industry Lands and Water said it and the Department of Education were “working together to clarify ownership and management of the site”. 

“Meanwhile, arrangements are being made for the site to be mowed as a matter of urgency,” the spokesperson said.

The land was previously used as an unfenced park, before it was dedicated to the Department of Education to host the school from 2001 up to 2014, when it moved to Metford.

Ms Aitchison asked a Question on Notice to former minister for education Adrian Piccoli on October 29, 2015, about the future of the site and was told it was under review. 

Mr Piccoli said on April 21, 2016, it was still “under construction”.

Current Minister Rob Stokes wrote to Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot Macdonald in December last year saying the site was declared surplus to education requirements in June 2016 and had been returned to Crown land. 

But it is understood ownership may not have been formally transferred. 

The site still has three covered outdoor learning areas and play equipment lying unused.

Ms Aitchison said it was rarely mowed and several residents said they were concerned about the long and dry grass posing a fire risk or hiding snakes. 

Ms Aitchison said at least six groups had approached her over the past three years looking for permanent premises and parents and citizens groups had expressed interest in the equipment. 

“There’s tonnes of potential and we just don’t have the space in Maitland to be sitting on a block of land and doing nothing with it.”