Otara hikoi over delays in relocating local school

4 Bishop Prendeville close-up

Several dozen people from St John the Evangelist parish in Otara have marched in a one day hikoi from south Auckland to Ponsonby to express their frustration at delays in relocating their school.

Some of those who started out on January 25 made it to the Pompallier Diocesan Centre grounds, where they met with Bishop Patrick Dunn. The hikoi started with a Mass at St John the Evangelist church in Otara.

The marchers want their school relocated elsewhere on the same overall Otara site, but away from its present position under 22,000 volt high tension lines, mainly because of health fears for the children.

A major issue in any relocation plans is the future of Whaiora Marae, which is adjacent to the school.

Parish priest Fr Brian Prendeville, SM, said the legal owner of the land upon which the marae is located is the parish priest.

Fr Prendeville told NZ Catholic that the school relocation saga has dragged on for 10 years, has involved several design reviews and has cost the diocese a significant sum so far.

The priest told his fellow hikoi marchers that the lack of progress on relocating the school was his biggest failure in his eight years as parish priest of Otara. Fr Prendeville was set to leave the parish in late January to take up a new placement eventually in Manurewa.

Auckland diocesan property group’s Michele Elsmore was invited by Bishop Dunn to address the marchers, who had been bearing signs stating “A school we can be proud of” and “Walking for our kids”.

Ms Elsmore spoke of a recent design which had ultimately been deemed to have had too many compromises for the school. But another design is underway and there will be consultation on this with the school and parish community.

One parent with children in years 4 and 6 at St John the Evangelist School asked if it was likely her children would ever attend classes in a relocated school. Ms Elsmore said her hope was that construction might start in early 2019.

Bishop Dunn welcomed the marchers and spoke about the history of the Pompallier Centre site. He noted the nearby Maori “pou” (poles) which had been in the Auckland Domain in 1986 for the visit of St John Paul II.

St John the Evangelist School Board of Trustees chair Manuel Beazley said that the area of the grounds where the marchers were seated was the site of a gathering place when Maori wished to meet with Bishop Pompallier in the 1800s.

Mr Beazley said that the people of Otara don’t have much in terms of physical wealth, but they do have great faith and would continue to pray.

NZ Catholic asked Fr Bernard Dennehy, who is in contact with the people at Whaiora Marae, to comment.

Fr Dennehy said: “The issue concerns relocation and/or compensation for marae buildings which would be removed or demolished to make way for the building of a new parish school.”

He added that the marae has generated income from the buildings. “The people of the marae community do not oppose the new school, they simply ask that justice be done.”

Bishop Dunn said the diocese and the parish disputed a number of claims made by the marae, but he hoped that good will and a concern for the children of the parish would allow the school relocation to proceed.

  • According to the Ministry of Health’s website, power lines do produce electric and magnetic fields. “Some people worry these fields might be strong enough to harm their health, but this is not the case,” the website stated.

The website also stated: “Some studies suggest that there may be a link between living near power lines, or in houses with strong magnetic fields produced by other sources, and a small increase in the number of children with leukaemia. But the link might be explained by other factors, and laboratory studies don’t suggest a connection, so it is not clear whether magnetic fields pose a risk or not.

“If they truly do increase the risk of leukaemia, the World Health Organisation considers that there would be only a limited impact on public health. While it is worth taking simple steps to reduce exposures (for example, when installing new electrical facilities), safety limits need not be lowered.”



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Michael Otto

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