It was “democracy at work” at the Langley Events Centre on Saturday afternoon, said Mayor Jack Froese, as members of the public gathered with representatives from four levels of government for a town hall meeting.
The panelists — Township Mayor Jack Froese, Langley MLA Mary Polak, MP Mark Warawa and Langley Board of Education chairperson Wendy Johnson— spent two hours answering questions from the audience and from Twitter users on issues currently impacting the community.
It was an opportunity for the public to hear municipal, provincial, federal and educational perspectives on each matter.
One of the most popular topics was the overcrowding of schools on the Willoughby slope.
When asked how council is going to “work with the school district to ensure overcrowding of schools is dealt with in advance of the actual overcrowding,” Mayor Froese spoke of the challenge between building infrastructure before areas are developed versus populating an area and then developing infrastructure once residents are present.
“We have official community plans, we try to look at the areas, we try to project where schools should go and we start to project and start to put place markers on the map. But until development starts in the area, and families start to move in, that’s when more in-depth planning takes place.
“Unfortunately the schools aren’t built until the students are there and we end up with overcrowding in existing schools, portables get put up and it’s a frustration for a lot of parents,” he said.
Polak, who was a school trustee in Surrey for 10 years, said part of the challenge is that the Langley School District has pockets of extreme growth in student population and pockets of extreme decline, all at the same time.
“School districts along with the province try to essentially take the information that councils have and to a certain extent prognosticate as to where development might likely go. And most of the time fairly accurately, sometimes though things change. Very often the building of one school involves the reconfiguring of a whole bunch of other places in the school district,” she said.
According to the Ministry of Education, the Willoughby Slope will need 10 elementary schools and four middle schools in the next 10 to 15 years, said Johnson.
“The problem becomes how do we identify where those (schools) should go? We need to develop that over time, sequentially, so they come on board as they are needed. That’s the work we are going to be engaging in over the next four or five months, and we need your help and your involvement as we develop that plan,” she told the audience.
“We’re aiming to avoid this problem in the future, but it is going to take all of us working together to get there.”
These issues tied in with another hot topic of the day — development and growth in the Township.
The Township of Langley and the City of Surrey are the two fastest growing communities in the Lower Mainland, said Froese. In the next 30 years a projected one million more people will live in Metro Vancouver, and the Township population expected to double.
“If we say no to development, we say no to families who need houses and there’s a lot of consequences of stopping growth and development when we do have areas that are designated. It puts pressure on the price of housing, it puts pressure on the land, and it does nothing but put it up,” he said.
“I don’t know how we can deny our future generations and people a place to live. If we halt development . . . it puts undue pressure on the sustained existing houses. So we’re in a quandary. Some people say we are growing too fast, some people say we are not growing fast enough.”
In the last census, the Township grew by 11 per cent, amounting to about 2,000 new residents each year, Froese said. Surrey is growing by nearly 20,000 people per year.
“I’ve talked to people who have moved here, they love Langley. They move here because of the lifestyle we have. There is a nice rural/urban mix. It is a beautiful place to live. I’m very proud of Langley and there is a lot of people who want to move here. We can’t deny that is happening,” Froese said.
Other topics brought up included the Mufford Overpass and traffic backlog from trains, the teachers’ strike, the robocalling affair in Ottawa and the setting up of a university district around Trinity Western University.
For more on these and other issues brought up at the meeting, see video at www.langleytimes.com.