Council hits back at state government over school drainage issues

Glenelg Shire mayor Anita Rank says the state government pointing the finger at the council for its lack of action on drainage at the Portland Bay School site is “disappointing, misleading and simply untrue”.

SAD: Portland Bay School council president Debbie Robinson and Pam Rennie in 2015 when the school was forced to close after an electrical fault.

SAD: Portland Bay School council president Debbie Robinson and Pam Rennie in 2015 when the school was forced to close after an electrical fault.

The school community has safety fears for its students as drainage issues are preventing pupils from moving to new premises.

Her comments came after education minister James Merlino said: “I, and I am sure the rest of Victoria, would consider repairing and upgrading roadside drainage a basic task of local government, and it is time the councillors got their act together and fixed the problem.” 

Cr Rank said while Mr Merlino had correctly pointed out drainage and parking construction were  council’s responsibility, the Portland community needed to be fully aware of the facts, which illustrated this was “not ultimately a council concern and is indeed a matter that sits with a number of departments”.

“Council has been engaged with the state government on drainage issues at the school site for more than two years, going to great lengths to find a solution,” she said.

She said of greatest concern was the lack of drainage connected to the area managed by the Glenelg Hopkins CMA, a responsibility that sat out of the council’s control.

“Council has been engaged to only complete Henty Street drainage and carpark works, something that is pointless in constructing if it is unusable due to rising water levels from the CMA controlled flood zone,” Cr Rank said.

She said the council had written to Mr Merlino as recently as April 13 raising the matters and calling for immediate intervention.

“While the minister visited Portland in April, at no time did he attempt to meet with council to gain an understanding of the key issues,” Ms Rank said.

“Furthermore, council are unaware of any state government building authority representatives ever visiting the site or having any first-hand knowledge of the drainage matters – all correspondence has been via the phone or email to date. 

“The decision was made by the state government to build in this wet area despite public information being made available that clearly identifies this site as being problematic from a flooding perspective. In fact, the site is the former sporting ground of the old Portland High School, which I understand relocated to its current south Portland site due to these underlying floodplain issues which make the ground unusable for six months of the year.”

Cr Rank said the council was not involved in the planning process, however the education department was required to get a building permit.

Cr Rank said throughout advisory stages the department had chosen “to continue to ignore advice and local knowledge that the site continually floods”.

“To ultimately solve this matter the state government must urgently consult with its own department, the CMA, and sort out this drainage debacle for good,” she said.

“Only then will council be able to play its role in building the appropriate infrastructure to support this long-awaited school and ensure the doors can finally open.” 

Minister for Education James Merlino said his first priority was always student safety.

“While Portland Bay School itself has been declared safe and is able to open at the start of term three we have been working to make the surrounding council owned areas even safer so as to address concerns recently raised by the school community,” he said.

“I am pleased the council has now agreed extend the footpath along Henty Street, linking the common area into the school grounds and to install fencing around the drains outside of the school.

“The Victorian School Building Authority is also installing further balustrading around the driveways located on council land.

“In Parliament in 2016, Roma Britnell called for the Andrews Government to fund construction of Portland Bay School at the very site she is now complaining about. It’s hard not to see her latest comments as another sad, cynical stunt from a Member of a party that contributed nothing towards Portland Bay School.

“Roma Britnell should familiarise herself with the difference of responsibilities between local council and state government before embarrassing herself like she has.”