The fight was brave. But the outcome was predictable. Hekia Parata was never going to let Redcliffs Primary School return to its barely damaged grounds in the shadow of a well contained rock fall risk.
Redcliffs School is the last of the Christchurch schools singled out for closure or merging in the 2012 post earthquake review to have its final fate determined. When the school found out in February that it was going to remain open, but might not be allowed to return to its old site, many thought the battle was as good as won. Contractors who had inspected the rock fall risk and come up with a solution for mitigation had said they could make it safer than many places with a lesser risk, and at least one had volunteered to do the work for free.
Others such as Phillipstown School, which bravely fought the Minister of Education in the courts and in public and won many admirers along the way, have closed.
There was never any doubt that Christchurch schools would need to be reviewed after the earthquakes. Some of them had suffered irreparable damage to their buildings. Others had lost so many staff and students as a result of the associated social upheaval that their futures were untenable. To that extent the review of Christchurch schools that started in 2012 was totally proper. What was not proper was the lack of consultation in the initial round with students, staff and parents only finding out via the media and – not surprisingly – organizing immediate protests. Nor was reasoning used behind the initial proposal to close a few schools in no shape or form affected by the quake, such as Burnside Primary in Ilam, or Okains Bay School – which contrary to the Minister’s claims actually had a growing roll. Nor was the determination to ignore completely sound arguments in the case of several schools.
The westward flight of families from eastern Christchurch, which bore the brunt of the quakes and now wears the consequences of the grinding down of communities with second rate services, did not help the problem. But the extent to which it would have suffered had Ms Parata’s initial review gone through unimpeded would have been much worse. The catchments of Linwood High, Avonside Girls High, Shirley Boys High and Mairehau High Schools would have been affected in ways that might have caused their own communities to suffer long term damage.
As Redcliffs Primary School weighs up the impact of Ms Parata’s announcement, a cynical observer cannot help but wonder if this is a final middle finger salute to a school that fought her every step of the way. And although she has announced her intention not to stand for National next year, is she done with Christchurch schools? I fear not.