Belfast Telegraph

Funding row halts school-build plans

The fate of east Belfast schools promised new buildings was hanging in the balance this week after Education Minister Catriona Ruane said there would be no new developments unless the Executive gave her department more funds.

The schools were told by email on the last day of term whether or not they met the criteria for a new build.

This was good news for Victoria Park Primary and Strathearn Grammar but Strandtown Primary School was told it was only “partially compliant”.

Councillor Jim Rodgers welcomed the news that two of the local schools were fully compliant with the Education department’s ‘Sustainable School Policy’.

“We intend to push hard to make sure these new buildings are actually going to happen for the schools deemed fully compliant,” he said.

“However, I am disappointed that Strandtown Primary School is only partially compliant. Because it is a listed building, the cost of refurbishing it is much more than what constructing a new build would cost. The Planning Service could not give the go-ahead, as to extend the premises, you need to use one of the sport pitches, which could not be relocated to any other part of the site as there is not enough space on school grounds to do this.

“Nevertheless, I will battle hard for the school to get these issues resolved.”

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle, who has |replaced MP Naomi Long at Stormont, called on the Education Minister to |clarify her department’s plans.

Mr Lyttle said: “We want, and pupils deserve, greater clarity and leadership on the delivery of modern, fit for purpose education provision for our children.

“I recognise that the minister, Caitríona Ruane has used her budget better than previous direct rule ministers who failed to spend around £100m of money set aside for new school buildings, but I would ask her to deal with this issue with as much clarity as possible if we are to tackle the ongoing discord around the education debate.

“The way in which the minister has communicated the outcome of the recent review of planned school building |projects, however, has left many local boards, principals and parents frustrated and confused.”

Mr Lyttle continued: “To allow schools, Education and Library Boards and the Department of Education to expend significant resources developing economic appraisals over a number of years only to notify them by school office email addresses on July 1 that they are not compliant for works is regrettable.

“In the case of Strandtown Primary School, to query the very viability |of an infant/junior school model is bizarre, particularly at this late |stage of the proposal development process.”

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