Spare infrastructure capacity – is it a tall story?
Here’s more evidence that claims of “spare” infrastructure capacity in inner city and inner suburban areas are a tall story. The Sunday Age reports that Port Melbourne Primary School, Malvern Primary and Middle Park Primary are the first schools to get double storey portable classrooms.
Two storey portables are a natural evolution – practically every State primary school in Melbourne within 10 km of the CBD already has single storey portables. However I’m not concerned with whether portables are better or worse than permanent buildings but rather with what additional classrooms say about spare capacity in schools.
As I argued previously in Why ‘spare infrastructure capacity’ is exaggerated, it is a mistake to think that there is necessarily spare infrastructure capacity just because an area historically had a higher population than it has at present.
Class sizes in an area like Middle Park back in the fifties, sixties and seventies were considerably higher than they are now. It was not uncommon in the sixties for classes to number 50 pupils.
However standards have changed – class sizes are now around twenty five students or less. Hence, the same number of students as a school historically enrolled cannot be accommodated today unless the number of classrooms is increased. The number of teachers and perhaps specialist facilities and services also needs to be increased. Even the on-road area required for drop-off and pick-up has increased dramatically as many fewer kids walk to school now.
There is, in short, no spare capacity in inner city and inner suburban schools and there hasn’t been for a long time.
When you think about it, this applies in other areas too. For example, per capita electricity consumption has risen significantly over the last 30 or so years due to widespread use of domestic air conditioning, computers and so on. This means that many fewer people can be housed in a suburb than historic population levels suggest without infrastructure being upgraded.
And there is another dimension to this issue. Increasing infrastructure capacity in established schools involves more than just providing additional classrooms, expensive as that undoubtedly is. There is another significant cost – whether portable or permanent, these new buildings deny precious space for other activities.
According to The Sunday Age, Albert Park Primary School is squeezed onto a 0.7 hectare site. The school staggers lunchtimes to provide adequate play space for children – the new two storey portables the school is getting will actually liberate some playground space from the single storey classrooms they replace!
St Kilda Park Primary School uses adjacent parkland at lunchtime. My daughter’s primary school walks students a short distance through a residential area to a nearby park for sporting activities.
It’s time that fanciful claims about infrastructure costs being lower in older established areas than on the urban fringe were replaced by dispassionate analysis. As I’ve argued before many of the current claims about supposed spare capacity in established areas are based on a deeply flawed interpretation of other research.
The State planning department needs to undertake a detailed and objective assessment of the relative contemporary infrastructure costs of new development in Melbourne’s established suburbs compared to fringe areas.