Crown land perfect for child care shortages

An interesting article written by PATRICIA KARVELAS From: The Australian appeared today which having dealt with Tom in the past agree with his suggestion.

THE chief executive of Australia’s largest privately owned operator of childcare centres has called on governments to offer up crown land for new centres in areas with chronic shortages.

The intervention by Tom Hardwick of Guardian Childcare Alliance comes after the Gillard government last week flagged in The Australian that it wished to overhaul planning and taxation laws to create more childcare places.

Mr Hardwick said the most useful way governments at all levels could expand the availability of childcare would be the identification of suitable land to accommodate centres in areas where land is in short supply or the values too high.

The federal government last week said suburbs with childcare shortages faced an overhaul of planning, land and tax laws. It revealed it would widen its planned childcare reforms to push states and local governments to alter the system because of a crisis in places which was stopping some women from returning to work.

Mr Hardwick said while planning laws could be frustrating, the issue of land availability was the single-biggest impediment.

“Federal, state and local governments own a lot of land and potentially they could make some of that available to facilitate setting up new centres in areas of high demand,” he said.

“For example, if there is surplus land surrounding schools or hospitals, or open reserves with spare capacity, governments could make this land available for new centres to be built, whether by private operators or community groups. I am not aware of anything that has been done to make more land available to help with this issue.”

In respect of town planning, the key issue was the time it took to move through the process, especially when centres were being located in residential areas and residents were opposed.

“If there was a process that fast-tracked childcare centre development applications so they didn’t get caught up in the politics of local council planning that would also help solve this dilemma.”

Mr Hardwick said Sydney was the most challenging city in which to open new centres because the suburbs within a 5km to 10km range of the CBD were densely populated and land prices were high. “If you can find a site where the economics . . . add up, the town planning issues can be difficult in residential areas due to traffic issues and residents not wanting a childcare centre,” he said.

“If you buy a $3 million piece of land and that sits for two years while you go through the planning process with a 7 per cent interest rate, that is $200,000 a year just to hold the land while you go through the process with council.

“Never mind the consultant and legal fees that you end up paying, especially when you need to go to town planning tribunals because local politics overrides sensible town planning.”

The Coalition’s childcare spokeswoman, Sussan Ley, said she did not support the federal government’s planned changes to state and local planning.

“Instead of handballing the problem to local government, the Coalition’s Productivity Commission inquiry will also assess and then address any issues regarding a shortage of childcare places,” Ms Ley said.

Moves to increase childcare flexibility come after Tony Abbott vowed to have the Productivity Commission examine the possibility of extending the 50 per cent childcare rebate capped at $7500 a year to in-home carers, a move that gained traction with parents.

While the Opposition Leader announced plans for an inquiry after the election, Labor is planning a policy change in coming months.

Guardian Childcare Alliance has recently expanded its business by acquiring Jigsaw Corporate Childcare, Australia’s leading provider of corporate childcare.