City bursting at its seams, rural areas struggling

By Kathryn Powley, Russell Blackstock

Auckland will be expected to accommodate a million extra residents over the next 30 years, with few plans for new schools, hospitals, courts and prisons. Kathryn Powley teams up with Russell Blackstock to reveal the big super-schools and robocops that could provide an answer

Lara Grozev, 8, will have to share the playground with many other students as Balmoral Primary School's roll grows. Photo / Michael Craig
Lara Grozev, 8, will have to share the playground with many other students as Balmoral Primary School's roll grows. Photo / Michael Craig

Auckland is growing up, in more ways than one - just ask Malcolm Milner. He is principal of an inner-city primary school about to embark on a project that will horrify many. Milner's Balmoral School is set to grow from a fairly typical state school into a three- or even four-storey affair.

About 30,000 new Aucklanders are expected to arrive in the city every year for the next 30 years, one every 19 minutes, a million within 30 years.

That's a million more demands on social infrastructure such as health, welfare, courts and police.

Improved technology is expected to be part of the answer, for courts and police at least. But schools need classrooms, and with space scarce that will mean building up.

The Education Ministry expects Auckland schools will build upwards over the next 20 to 50 years "to maintain open spaces for their future students".

Katrina Casey, the ministry's deputy secretary of regional operations, says options to meet demand for more classroom space include creating new permanent or temporary teaching spaces, changing the year levels schools teach and building new schools.

When Milner took the job at Balmoral School six years ago, the school roll was about 730. By the end of this year it is expected to top 855 and is forecast to reach almost 1000 by 2015.

"Huge primary schools are not something we have had in New Zealand before and people have to ask themselves if this is what we really want for our children," Milner says. "This is something brought in by the Government by stealth and the public needs to be aware of what is going on."

Milner says his school can't keep eating into its playing fields for new classrooms.

"We are going to build to three storeys but can go up to four if needed," he says. "I keep asking myself, how big does the Ministry of Education expect my school to get?

"As a country surely we cannot afford to see education as a monetary rather than a social priority. That would be disastrous. We need to start buying more land to build more schools rather than create high-rise institutions for our children."

Mt Eden Normal Primary School principal John Faire is worried, too. "Given the current growth, our roll may reach 1000 by 2020, which will significantly impact on the quality of learning conditions," Faire says. "It seems the Ministry's solution is to keep providing new buildings but since 2005 we have added 12 new classrooms. This can't continue or kids will be standing shoulder to shoulder in the playground."

The future for schools is going up. For Police and Justice, it's about becoming more technological.

The Justice Ministry's deputy chief executive John Ryan says the Auckland region already accounts for about a third of the national court workload. But crime rates have been falling and Justice will find efficiencies rather than invest in bricks and mortar in a city already home to four of New Zealand's largest courts.

"Our approach has been to modernise the way we work to make better use of our resources and infrastructure across the region, and to ensure money is spent on delivering services rather than on buildings," Ryan says.

Manukau's courthouse is undergoing a $40m refurbishment to cope with growing demand. A 960-bed prison is being built at Wiri.

Corrections northern regional commissioner Jeanette Burns says the extra capacity is in line with forecast population growth.

The department has 16 community probation service centres from North Shore to Pukekohe. As technology improves, says Burns, the probation officers will work in an increasingly mobile and flexible way.

Technology trumps bricks and mortar for police too, according to assistant commissioner for the upper north, Allan Boreham.

He says police stations such as those in Browns Bay or Newmarket will remain, but it's unlikely many new suburban stations will be built. Instead police will rely on hub stations in central Auckland, Counties Manukau and North Shore. Computer tablets and smart phones now being rolled out nationwide will allow cops to input and access information in "real-time" and file paperwork in the field. They will even be able to dictate reports into gadgets for typists to finish.

But can information technology possibly save Auckland's health bosses from building hospitals?

Counties Manukau Health's long-term intention is for Middlemore Hospital to treat acute patients while the Manukau Super Clinic in Manurewa will concentrate on non-urgent needs and elective services. There are likely to be more specialised integrated health centres, says spokeswoman Lauren Young.

"We need to treat people locally and we need to treat them well."

Such a hub opened this week in Botany where the district health board teamed with two primary health organisations to provide a one-stop shop with access to speciality health services, rehabilitation and social services. And tomorrow, the Dawson Rd Maternity Clinic opens in Otara, a week-day drop-in centre that offers free pregnancy testing, contraceptive advice, early allocation of midwives, and information about mother-and-baby services.

There are also moves to enable GPs to test for diabetes and cardiovascular disease without having to send patients away for blood tests. Health planners say this will lead to better health outcomes and fewer people on Auckland's already congested roads. Auckland DHB chief planning and funding manager Denis Jury says: "The current way we go about our business risks becoming unsustainable. More beds and new buildings is not the answer to growth pressure."

More community services will reduce pressure on hospitals, as will immunisation programmes, heart and diabetes checks and screening programmes.

"We need a new relationship with our population, one based on an expectation that they will be managing their own health and the district health board is here to help."

Auckland Council's chief planner Dr Roger Blakely has been working with social infrastructure providers, including the education ministry. "Sixty to 70 per cent of the extra million people will live within the urban footprint, and 30 to 40 per cent will live in new green-fields developments and satellite towns like Warkworth and Pukekohe.

"Central Government has made it clear to departments that they should be aligning their planning to the Auckland plan so that we have got perfect alignment."

For many Aucklanders, the adjustment to their new-look city is going to prove a challenge.

Population growth is already causing tension in Pt Chevalier, a suburb hemmed in between the sea and the Northwestern Motorway. Pt Chev Primary has already "gone up", adding a second storey, and now may gobble up nearby Pasadena Intermediate, too.

The community is mulling Ministry of Education proposals to either turn Pasadena into a full primary, or build more classrooms at the already-packed Pt Chevalier.

Mum-of-two Karen Fraser has a 12-year-old son at Pasadena, who also attended Pt Chevalier.

"Pasadena is the only dedicated intermediate school within walking distance and many parents believe primary and intermediates should be separate entities," she says.

"We should be acquiring more land for schools not creating bigger and fewer facilities. This is pitting school against school and dividing the community."


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- Herald on Sunday

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