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Centre offers support after erosion forces closure

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Mission Australia has offered short-term arrangements for families affected by the closure of the Stockton Early Learning Centre due to significant coastal erosion.

The not-for-profit organisation informed staff and families of the centre’s closure last week after independent coastal engineers deemed it was no longer safe for occupation.

Newcastle council, the property’s landowner, stated it had been clear for more than 12 months that the building would be demolished when the lease expired in mid-2020.

In 2016, the council began to closely monitor the Stockton shoreline via a range of technologies, including 3D drone-based modelling, ground, and aerial photography.

The modelling results showed the dune was relatively stable up until about January 2018 and, since then, severe weather events had accelerated erosion rates.

The council claimed that, in the past two months alone, more than 9,000 cubic metres of sand was lost from the front of Barrie Crescent Reserve, where the centre was located.

Mission Australia general manager Ben Williams said it had attempted to find a more suitable location.

“The erosion of the sand dunes at Stockton occurred much faster than erosion forecasts expected due to recent large swell and heavy rain,” he told Newcastle Weekly.

“We have been investigating alternative sites for the Stockton centre in the local area since February last year.

“Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we have not been able to secure an appropriate and viable location for a childcare centre of this size.”

Mr Williams said he understood the centre’s closure would result in an uncertain time for parents and children.

However, he added early learning staff were available to assist families to connect to alternative care options and offer support.

“We are offering families short-term care arrangements at our other local services – including providing free transport from Stockton to our Beresfield service for children aged 12 months and over – while we help parents and guardians find longer-term placements for all children,” he said.

“Local early learning services have vacancies available and have also kindly offered their support to our families.”

The Stockton centre had operated for more than three decades.

A new playground opened in September 2018 at the side of the property after the former yard was damaged when severe storms lashed the coastline earlier that year.

Newcastle state MP Tim Crakanthorp called for the government to urgently intervene and expedite a coastal management program for Stockton Beach.

In August 2018, Mr Crakanthorp tabled a 10,000-signature petition and debated the issue in NSW Parliament, while he also invited ministers to visit the site.

He claimed the centre’s closure should “never have got to this stage”.

“The people of Stockton have been abandoned by this government,” he said.

“We know the government has money they can spend – they need to spend it.”

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