Belfast Telegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

New school plans fall victim to budget cuts

North Down schools will have to “live with substandard facilities” after the Education Minister revealed that new school builds will be the main casualty in a bid to save money.

That is the claim of one local councillor who said plans for three new builds in Holywood have been dealt a serious blow following Caitriona Ruane’s vow to shift £41m from the school building capital budget to pay for services and staffing.

Bangor Grammar School — where rebuilding work is due to start by the end of this month — remains upbeat on work going ahead despite the announcement.

But, its headmaster told the Community Telegraph, he wouldn’t be entirely confident “until the diggers are on site”.

In Holywood, Redburn and Holywood Primary Schools were due to merge, while Priory Integrated College was expecting a new building. A new nursery school was also planned for the Holywood PS site.

The education plans are outlined in the department's budget for the period 2011/12 to 2014/15.

The money for school building work was already due to be cut and this decision will double the shortfall next year.

The minister’s announcement this week is a “setback”, claims North Down DUP councillor Gordon Dunne.

“Plans were at a very advanced stage , funding was the last piece of the jigsaw, so this is obviously a blow,” he said. People are very disappointed, because staff and pupils alike are going to have to make do with substandard facilities.

“Priory College, for example, has extremely poor conditions, as do all the schools.”

The councillor urged the minister to apply funding fairly across all areas of education and emphasised that she should “provide Holywood with new school provision”.

Mr Dunne’s party colleague Peter Weir said the announcement was “deeply disturbing”.

“This is obviously very concerning for capital projects in North Down, namely the new build at Bangor Grammar and the four schools project in Holywood. The minister has taken the highly unusual steps of shifting capital spend to current spend, at a time when other departments are doing the reverse.

“I am not sure this is a wise move, made all the more problematical by the high-handed unilateral actions of the Coalition Government in London who without warning have removed about £300m of capital from the Northern Ireland budget.”

“It is imperative that the Education Minister immediately clarifies the implications if any, for schools that are due to be part of major capital projects.

Caitriona Ruane said she had chosen to transfer money from the capital budget to “minimise the impacts in the classroom”.

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