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Matching investment in key services such as health and education with population trends is an inexact science at the best of times. This is especially so in the South where the population is generally ageing and numbers are holding at best but declining in some areas.
The exception is the Queenstown Lakes district, where population growth of 30% between 2001 and 2006 has led the country, and where the Wakatipu has been the primary benefactor. Statistics New Zealand figures estimate the resident population has grown from 12,990 in 2001 to 16,750 in 2006, with the National Health Board predicting the population will grow by a further 8637 people between 2006 and 2026.
So, it is with some surprise that Wakatipu parents now find schools are close to capacity, prompting the board of trustees at the Remarkables Primary School to consider reducing its enrolment zone just 19 months after the school opened it doors.
By term four, Remarkables Primary will have a roll of 380, but by the end of next year it will have surpassed its 460-pupil limit, prompting school trustees to warn they will struggle to handle demand from pupils within the enrolment zone let alone the wider community.
This has led to concerns children from adjacent residential areas Lake Hayes Estate, Quail Rise, Tucker Beach, Marina Heights and the northern side of Frankton Rd would be excluded, requiring parents to bus their children twice a day past the Remarkables school gate to Queenstown Primary School.
Reducing the Remarkables enrolment zone was quite correctly seen by parents and principals as a short-term or sticking-plaster solution. It was never going to address the fundamental issue of pupil demand exceeding supply. There is capacity at Queenstown Primary for another 100 to 120 pupils, but beyond that deputy principal Jim Turrell has warned the school will have to increase its footprint.
But, even more concerning was his prediction the Wakatipu school network would reach capacity in the next "three to four years", a claim supported by Plunket Society birth figures showing 300 5-year-olds will be looking for a place at a primary school in 2014.
The fact Queenstown's population is growing rapidly is not new, leading to a feeling among parents that they have been let down by inadequate planning by the Ministry of Education.
Wakatipu High School is also eyeing a move from its central Queenstown location to a new campus in the Frankton area to address a lack of winter sunshine and the potential provided by a greenfields site to create a purpose-built school campus.
St Joseph's School has expansion plans at Speargrass Flat but those are embroiled in resource consent appeals which could delay construction for a decade, and KingsView School, formerly the Southern Lakes Christian School, has been integrated into the state system which the ministry says will help alleviate some space issues.
There has also been talk of building a second campus at Remarkables Primary School to cater for year 6 to year 8 pupils, but none of these are of a size to address the bigger issues. Parents want and need certainty, something the ministry has not yet provided, so there is little surprise to hear some families with young children are leaving the district.
Education Minister Anne Tolley last month was asked by the Queenstown Times community newspaper what plans her department had for new schools, a construction timetable and where they would be built. She replied in a statement the ministry always intended to build another school in Frankton, but in the meantime there would be places available for all school-aged children for the next two years.
This problem is in part the result of Queenstown's success at attracting people which has led to new residential developments on greenfields sites. But, this also raises questions of the Queenstown Lakes District Council planning process for not including or insisting on provisions for community services such as schools.
This week, the Ministry of Education confirmed it was looking at space at the Remarkables Park and Five Mile as new sites, but had still to make definitive announcements of its plans. Unfortunately, these actions are belated and piecemeal. Wakatipu parents need certainty their children will have access to a school.