£30m worth of school property sitting idle
The Department of Education has come under fire after it emerged there is almost £30m of unused property sitting idle in Northern Ireland's schools estate.
It comes as the department faces its toughest budget in decades and is battling a £300m shortfall over the next four years.
According to Assembly figures recently released, the South Eastern Education and Library Board has £16m of school buildings and land not in use.
The Belfast Education and Library Board has £7.2m, the North Eastern Education and Library Board £3.2m, the Western Education and Library Board £1.5m and the Southern Education and Library Board £747,000.
The figures relate to schools in the controlled sector. However, they equate to just 1.7% value of the controlled schools estate which is, overall, worth £1.7bn.
The figures emerged in an Assembly question from UUP education spokesman David McNarry to Education Minister John O'Dowd.
Mr McNarry, vice-chairman of Stormont's Education Committee, hit out at the department for not selling off the £28.6m of unused assets to boost its coffers.
Mr McNarry said: "I am astounded to find that the Education department presides over a staggering £30m worth of non-used school buildings across the five education boards.
"Finding almost £30m worth of money tied up in schools sitting idle is an outrage and a financial scandal.
"It can only get worse when more schools are closed, left unused and not open to any community usage.
"Here we have a department out of its depth, dithering, financially inept and unable to put to any good use parts of an estate lying defunct and empty."
But Education Minister John O'Dowd has defended holding on to the property in the current economic climate when demand for property has slumped causing prices to plummet.
He said: "Whilst I expect the boards to sell unused assets to boost public funds, Mr McNarry must realise there is very little demand at present for the purchase of vacant school buildings.
"The boards can't generate demand that does not exist and I will not agree to a sale of our assets at far below their market value."