Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

68 school building projects stalled as Ruane makes up her mind

Education Minister Caitriona Ruane still has not decided on the fate of 68 school building projects put on hold during a controversial review — with one of the projects first announced 10 years ago.

The review of all capital building schemes was announced by the minister in October and involves millions of pounds worth of vital building work at primary, secondary-level, integrated and special schools across the province.

Ms Ruane’s response to a recent Assembly question revealed that a total of 68 building projects have been approved by the department but work has not yet commenced — with one building scheme announced as far back as 2000. Most involve new builds but some are extension and refurbishment projects.

Schools across Northern Ireland are also struggling to cope with a £240m backlog in essential maintenance work.

In response to a request for an update from the Belfast Telegraph, the minister said she will make final decisions on her controversial review — which has been completed — “in due course”.

This is despite her already taking a decision to go ahead with a new build to replace one school burnt down by arsonists — following weeks of public pressure and parents taking a protest to Stormont.

Whitehouse Primary in Newtownabbey was burned to the ground last July and the minister was strongly criticised after she suspended plans for a new build as part of her review.

And she was also able to announce a £2m windfall solely for Irish-medium school buildings in March.

Ms Ruane said: “I have now looked at the findings of the review and was able to take a decision on Whitehouse. It is clear Whitehouse is a priority, there were exceptional circumstances in terms of the fire and Whitehouse fulfils all the Department’s policies including sustainable schools.

“I will make final decisions on the entire review in due course.”

In response to another recent Assembly question the minister warned: “I have not withdrawn funding for any school.

“However, given the reduced funding available to my department, it is inevitable that not all capital projects can be progressed as planned.”

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