Christ Church Grammar School (CCGS) is the wealthiest and most privileged private school in Western Australia, with a current endowment in excess of $40m. In 1959, the school acquired 80,000m2 (8ha) of land in Mount Claremont from the City of Perth for the stated intent of establishing playing fields or a future preparatory school. The land was acquired for 15,000 pounds ($30,000).
Preliminary investigations by the Town of Cambridge indicate that CCGS received a discount of approximately 85% of the value of surrounding residential land. The school was also given 12 years to pay off the land and the City of Perth funded construction of a road so the school could access the playing fields.
The playing fields have been zoned ‘Parks and Recreation’ since the first City of Perth City Planning Scheme was gazetted in 1985. The current CCGS Council now wants to rezone the playing fields for residential infill to secure a financial windfall of $75 million, maybe more.
This is some scheme by the CCGS Council. Petition the government to acquire land cheaply for a community purpose, then later seek to rezone the land for private profit. Avoid proper and transparent process. Put a bulldozer through over 60 years of school history without engaging the school community. Destroy forever playing fields which are in short supply, especially for girls, who suffer significant systemic inequality in accessing broad acre sports. Claim an entitlement to rezoning densities at least double that of surrounding properties. And do all this while loudly promoting that the school is governed as a principle centred, values-based institution with a mission of ‘building good men’.
The purpose and intent of the sale of land by the City of Perth to CCGS in 1959 could not have been clearer. The school’s representation at the time (see official City of Perth minutes here) was that the land was for playing fields and possible construction of a preparatory school at a future time.
CCGS paid virtually nothing for the land, and it was tantamount to a ‘community gift’ to a growing school in need of playing fields and short of funds. Preliminary investigations by the Town of Cambridge indicate that CCGS received a discount of approximately 85% of the value of the surrounding residential land. The school was also given 12 years to pay off the land.
Applying the average long-term Perth residential property growth rate of 6.82% pa to the price CCGS paid in 1959 yields a present value of the playing fields of approximately $1.9m. So, for land for which it paid less than $2m in today’s dollars, the CCGS Council is now seeking an entitlement to a windfall gain of approximately $75m for the wealthiest school in Western Australia.
School principal Alan Jones told the Business News in May 2021 that “the primary reason for the school considering its options with this site (Mount Claremont playing fields) is that it is surplus land… not the revenue that a sale could generate”. Really Mr Jones? But CCGS Council is deliberately acquiring land at the Brockway Road tip site, to make the existing Mount Claremont playing fields ‘surplus’, to then seek a rezoning of the ‘surplus’ land to generate a financial windfall of $75m?
CCGS Council Chair Professor Paul Johnson, who was previously Vice Chancellor of UWA has advocated that “Systemic barriers within universities to the career advancement of female academic staff require alternative management practices that can only be driven from the top.” Really Professor Johnson? Where is your concern about systemic barriers when it comes to the private all-boys school that you lead, attempting to secure ownership and control of 16 hectares of new sporting fields ahead of all other co-educational government schools and all-girls schools, all of whom already suffer from vastly inferior facilities? Where is your concern about systemic barriers in deciding that playing fields, already in short supply especially for girl’s sport, aren’t valuable enough to preserve and are better suited to rezoning and residential sub-division? Or are you in favour of reducing systemic barriers for females and concerned to make sure this is “driven from the top”, just providing it doesn’t get in the way of the already privileged private all-boys school that you lead, securing a $75m ill-begotten windfall?
Minister for Lands, Dr Tony Buti told the local community in June 2021: “It is acknowledged that there is a shortage of playing fields in the Western suburbs and I understand your concerns regarding community access to playing fields in the area.” Dr Buti’s comment relates most specifically to girls, who don’t have fair and adequate access to broad acre playing fields compared to boys. What the current CCGS Council describes as ‘surplus’, virtually every other school and sporting association in the state would consider incredibly precious.
A WA state government study (see here) concluded that “by 2031, the predicted shortfall of active open space in the central sub-region of Perth will be 79.0 ha, which is equivalent to 36 senior AFL ovals or 110 senior soccer pitches. If the provision of the support facilities is taken into account, the total shortfall of open space required for active sport in 2031 in the central sub-region, is around 237 ha.” These findings indicate the need for and importance of conserving active open space and playing fields. In the face of this coming shortfall, how does the CCGS Council respond? They want to ask the government to rezone playing fields that were originally provided as a ‘community gift’ so that they can then destroy these to generate a $75m private windfall.
In August 2020 the CCGS Council sought to circumvent the Town of Cambridge and the local planning strategy process by progressing an ultimate rezoning of the playing fields directly through the WA Planning Commission. In October 2020 the WA Planning Commission heard the matter and said that the school had “not followed the orderly and proper process….and the community has not been provided with the opportunity to consider and comment on this matter.”
The CCGS Council told the WA Planning Commission they “had started looking for an offsite strategy 3-4 years ago.” But at no time during this 3–4-year period did the CCGS Council table its plans with the school community, or the Old Boys’ Association, or the Town of Cambridge or the local community. This lack of engagement was in spite of the fact that the Town of Cambridge was during the exact same time period carrying out a local planning strategy process to which the CCGS Council made no submission or application. Instead, the CCGS Council acted to not engage with any stakeholders and keep its scheme confidential.
How did the CCGS Council characterise this lack of transparency and engagement over many years? Alan Jones wrote to the school community in April 2021 stating “we believe it is important that they [Mount Claremont residents/homeowners] are appropriately consulted and their choices heard as options for development are considered.” Really Mr Jones? CCGS Council is saying it believes consulting with residents is important, but it says this only after it failed to have the local planning strategy amended behind the back of these same residents. CCGS Council undertook no consultation even with its own school community in respect of what would be the most significant disposal of an asset in the school’s history and the destruction of arguably the most spectacular school playing fields in Western Australia. What motive was influencing the CCGS Council to behave with so much secrecy and lack of disclosure on something so significant? Was the CCGS Council concerned that its planned purchase of the Brockway Road site might be put at risk if other more deserving schools and community sporting associations were given the opportunity to access this land? The CCGS Council knew that if they couldn’t secure purchase of the Brockway Road site, their windfall scheme for the Mount Claremont playing fields would not be possible.
Alan Jones was interviewed by ABC Drive program in May 2021.
Geoff Hutchinson: “The suggestion was made that you hadn’t followed due process, that you sought a preliminary rezoning from the state government rather than going through council – is that right?”
Alan Jones: “No, I think what the school has concentrated on to this point was acquiring the land at St John’s Wood (Brockway Road) , we weren’t looking at what we were doing at Mount Claremont, we haven’t secured that land (Brockway Road) yet and therefore we haven’t gone that route of what is going to happen to Mount Claremont.” Really Mr Jones? Your representation was completely at odds with what the CCGS Council had specifically attempted to do in its approach to the WA Planning Commission almost a year earlier, which was solely focussed on the Mount Claremont playing fields.
In the same May 2021 interview with ABC Drive, Alan Jones claimed that the school was not seeking medium density residential infill for the playing fields. Geoff Hutchinson: “I’m sorry to interrupt, but when this correspondent says my husband and one other have personally sighted much more detailed plans including high rise apartment blocks, do you say that these plans don’t exist?”
Alan Jones: “Absolutely Geoff, those plans do not exist, no.”
Really Mr Jones? Your representation was completely at odds with concept plans that the school had tabled with the Town of Cambridge in February 2021, that included multi-storey apartments on the northern perimeter of the playing fields. Several Mount Claremont residents were subsequently shown these plans by the Town of Cambridge.
After several years of not disclosing or engaging with anyone and keeping their scheme as confidential as possible, as soon as its actions became public knowledge, the CCGS Council was suddenly in a huge rush. A handful of residents received a letterbox flyer on a Friday afternoon so Alan Jones could claim to the school community that it was engaging responsibly with residents. Then came ‘offers’ of one-on-one resident meetings without any disclosure of meaningful redevelopment plans. Then after residents complained, came a once-off community drop-in session where residents were given the opportunity to provide feedback on 10 re-development ‘preferences’. Click here to see these and read each one carefully – the design principles and site considerations proposed are either statutory requirements or inherent limitations of the site ‘dressed-up’ as developer concessions. CCGS Council’s consultation with the local community was reactive, rushed and cynical.
In July 2021 CCGS Council lodged a scheme amendment with the Town of Cambridge. The scheme amendment seeks to rezone the Mount Claremont playing fields from Parks & Recreation to Development Zone under the local planning scheme and introduce a Special Control Area over the area. The Town of Cambridge must consider the application on its merits, giving due regard to matters like the intent of the original land purchase, that the application has not formed part of the local planning strategy process completed by the Town of Cambridge in 2020 and whether issues associated with the land, like bush fire risk, make it suitable for rezoning and residential infill. The Town of Cambridge is not obliged to accept the application and can decide to not ‘initiate’ on the basis that the application lacks sufficient merit, is not consistent with the local planning strategy, and has no purpose other than private profit.
Minister for Lands, Dr Tony Buti told the local community in August 2021: “No agreement, arrangement or understanding was or has been reached with CCGS in relation to the proposed rezoning of the McClemans Road land.”
CCGS Council spokesperson Joanne Wheeler in comments made to The Post in June 2021 warned residents that Planning Minister Rita Saffioti would decide the fate of the playing fields if the Town of Cambridge rejected the rezoning because of objections from neighbours. “It would be better if residents liaised with element (CCGS Council’s town planning consultant)”, she said. “If the Town of Cambridge don’t make a decision, Rita Saffioti will make her own decision.” Really Ms Wheeler? How does CCGS Council know that Minister Saffioti will act against the Town of Cambridge and residents? How does the CCGS Council know Minister Saffioti will facilitate a ‘spot’ rezoning to provide the private financial windfall the CCGS Council is seeking?
A review of WA’s Bushfire Framework and the Wooroloo Bushfire Inquiry are both underway. The former review has already set out important changes (most notably Policy Measure: 5.2 Element 1: Location which was adopted by the WA Planning Commission in November 2019) which specifically require that site “context” be considered when formulating any planning or rezoning, where “context” includes both land within the site and adjoining the site. Bold Park, which adjoins the Mount Claremont playing fields on two sides is rated Bushfire Attack Level Flame Zone (BAL-FZ) which is the highest rating on the scale. The current Minister for Lands, Dr Tony Buti in his investigation into bushfire risk has emphasised that the protection of human life is the primary focus and recommended the importance of recognising locational context, associated risk and avoidance of development in extreme areas. Of the 71 residential lots proposed by the CCGS Council in its scheme amendment application, more than half are within 100m of an assessed Bushfire Attack Level Flame Zone.
CCGS Council is less concerned about bush fire risk than the Minister for Lands, Dr Tony Buti. Their master plan for the Mount Claremont playing fields claims that “improved bushfire protection is secured via new access roads adjacent to bushfire prone areas (Bold Park).” Really CCGS Council? How is bushfire protection for the community improved by removing a bushfire buffer of 8 hectares of green open space and replacing it with 70 new homes and a 10m wide access road that does no more than link to existing roads that were never designed to service a residential sub-division of the playing fields? How does the CCGS Council characterise traffic impact in its master plan: “the traffic generated by the development will have minimal impact on the surrounding local network.” Really CCGS Council? How can a residential infill development with 70 new homes, none of which will have any direct access to surrounding arterial roads, be fairly described as having minimal impact on the surrounding local streets? Do these claims sound like those of a values-based Church school with a proud 100 year history, or a property developer, prepared to say whatever it takes to maximise a windfall gain?
In its scheme amendment application lodged with the Town of Cambridge, the CCGS Council is seeking zoning densities twice that of surrounding residents. The CCGS Council is not bound to these proposed densities and there are mechanisms it can use to seek higher densities later, either by a subsequent application to change the densities or on-selling the land to another developer who will make such an application.
Imagine a neighbour across the road from you, who acquires land for a fraction of its value on the basis he has a community purpose. Then one day he decides he no longer has a community purpose for the land, and he wants the government to rezone the land so he can privately profit. He tries to implement his strategy in secret for as long as he can. He also believes he is entitled to development densities twice that of what you and his other neighbours enjoy. But that’s not where it ends, he also mounts a sign on his verge for all passers-by claiming that he is a principle-centred, community leader guided by the values of environmental responsibility, honesty and trustworthiness, integrity, respect, responsibility and social justice. Does he sound like a good neighbour to you? His actions are exactly those being attempted by the current CCGS Council and the values just listed are its publicly stated guiding principles.
Earlier this year the Victorian state government introduced measures on behalf of the Victorian community to circumscribe the actions of property developers like the current CCGS Council. The government stated the following: “When governments make planning decisions to rezone ex-industrial land, or create new residential estates, property developers can make massive windfall profits overnight…. Developers and speculators will face a windfall gains tax of up to 50 per cent applied to planning decisions to rezone land from 1 July 2022, ensuring multi-million-dollar overnight profits are shared with the community.” Could there be a more applicable situation for such a tax than a school that was given land virtually for free on representations that it needed the land for a community purpose? But in the case of CCGS, a 50% tax would be completely inadequate given that the community, both through the initial grant of the land and its subsequent rezoning, is responsible for creating close to 100% of the value of the land in the event of a residential rezoning and sub-division.
Alan Jones, in describing the school’s Centre for Ethics (CCGS is the only school in Western Australia with such a centre) claims “the Director of the Centre for Ethics, Frank Sheehan, frequently goes back to the model of conversation as a way of “doing ethics”. He sees this as pivotal to the task of building good men who can ask powerful questions, think critically, look with compassion, and take action to bring about a world marked by choices; choices made upon strong ethical foundations and a spirituality characterised by hope and love.” Really Mr Jones? CCGS was generously sold the playing fields by the community in 1959. Now, the current CCGS Council wants to secure a second and even larger windfall from the community through a rezoning, solely and exclusively for the financial benefit of the state’s wealthiest and most privileged private school. What ‘powerful questions’ has the CCGS Council asked itself? How exactly is the CCGS Council “doing ethics”? How have Alan Jones and the CCGS Council demonstrated leadership and behaviour on this issue that meets the standard of “building good men”?