14 Sep 2015

Schools charged for using public parks

11:59 am on 14 September 2015

Auckland Council's Parks Committee chair has paid the fee herself for an Auckland school hit by a charge for using a public park.

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Photo: 123rf.com

Inner-city Auckland schools are furious at new charges for using public parks for recreational events.

With many inner-city of the schools facing a shortage of green space, sports meets and pre-Christmas break-up events are frequently held at local parks.

But Point Chevalier School - which has held an end of year picnic at Coyle Park at Point Chevalier beach every year for the past nine years - has now been charged by the Auckland Council for the picnic.

Under the Trading and Events in Public Places Bylaw - brought in on 1 July - schools now have to apply for an event permit, and are being charged $90 each time they use a public park.

Point Chevalier School principal Sandra Aitken told Nine to Noon that the school had not been warned about the change, only finding out about it when they notified the council about this year's picnic.

"We were shocked, we felt that all our families paid fairly high rates in this area, and presumably that's so we can use the parks in the area."

The school was also told they would be fully responsible for the care of the toilets during their event, even if other groups were using the park at the time, although this has since been reversed by the Council.

Ms Aitken said the school was told the charge was part of the standardising of bylaws across the Auckland super city.

With 740 students on a 1.6ha site, the school also uses other local parks in the area for sports events, such as cross country races, and has even used the car park at the local tennis club as a play space.

Ms Aitken said the school had the funds to pay the fee, but with no space to let children run around in the fresh air, they were challenging the reasoning behind the charge.

"It is a public space and I don't think any school should pay, especially when it's not a commercial money making event."

The school wrote to the Council, mayor Len Brown and Christine Fletcher, the chair of the Auckland Council's Parks Committee, and Ms Aitken said they had been supportive, with Ms Fletcher offering to pay the fee herself.

Speaking on Nine to Noon today, Ms Fletcher said she was "completely gobsmacked" by the news the school was being charged.

She said there had been a lot of work done to standardise bylaws following the super city amalgamation, but "never in my wildest dreams did I think we would start charging schools for getting kids out and using the parks".

Ms Fletcher said she had been assured by the chair of the bylaws committee that the interpretation of council officers was "absolutely not" the intention of the bylaw change.

"We are doing our level best to encourage as many young people to be active as possible, and I would be appalled to be putting up obstacles."

She said she applauded the staff at Point Chevalier School for bringing attention to the issue.

Auckland Inner City Schools Association president Carolyn Marino, who is also the principal of Westmere School, said the Port Chevalier school was the first to be hit by the new charge, but that it was a concern for all the inner-city schools.

"The policy is a one-size-fits-all one, but they haven't really thought about the full effects.

"Our parks are a wonderful resource and I don't think the Council has really thought it through."

She said the Association had written to the Council to get clarification on the issue.

"Sometimes we run a fund-raising triathlon, and you expect to pay for things like that, where you run stalls and charge for that event, but to celebrate the end of term is totally different. It's just children run around with sports gear."