South Belfast 'superschool' over key hurdle
Plans which could "revolutionise" schooling in inner south Belfast are one step closer to fruition after a planning application for a new primary school and nursery was approved.
The Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB) confirmed an application to build a two-storey, 14 classroom primary school and a double nursery unit – to accommodate 25 teaching staff and approximately 450 children – was approved by Belfast Council Town Planning Committee on August 1.
The site, at the junction of Fane Street/Dunluce Avenue, is currently used as a car park for Belfast City Hospital.
The new-build would cement long-standing plans to amalgamate three inner south Belfast schools: Fane Street, Donegall Road and Blythefield Primary.
A spokesperson for the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, which owns the land, confirmed a meeting with BELB and the Department of Education will take place later this month to "discuss the BELB requirements for land at Belfast City Hospital and the redevelopment of the Trust Acute Mental Health Facility at the site".
Acting principal of Blythefield Primary School, Catherine Roulston, spoke of her excitement at the approval.
"We're one step closer to the goal of amalgamation with two other local schools, which is where we all want to be, so we're really extremely pleased that it has been passed. A new building, a new environment is lovely for children and it is very motivating." she said.
"However, it's only one step and there are a lot of other things which have to happen before the first sod is cut so to speak," she added.
Local UUP councillor Alderman Bob Stoker (right) has been campaigning for the new school for more than 20 years. He said the approval is "very good news for the community".
"If we have a new, modern building with enthusiastic teachers, under the direction of a vibrant, forward-looking principal, we believe that educational attainment can be dramatically improved."
He said the benefits a new school will bring would "revolutionise" south Belfast children's schooling.
"There's been a lot of dedicated teachers in the existing schools and we wouldn't want to lose their experience and dedication. But all of the indications from previous surveys and studies show that a new school, with community support and involvement, is beneficial to children's education."
Fane Street Primary School principal Mr Stephen Orr said he was "unable to say an awful lot" about the application being passed as the BELB has not informed the school or spoken to the school's governors yet.
"In terms of whether it's positive, it depends on a number of factors: It depends if the site is big enough for the size of school we need for the area; it depends on whether there's a better site in the area – which doesn't seem to be the case at the moment.
"I can't say that the governors are particularly happy with the site that has been selected because they feel it is a small site," he added.
Principal of Donegall Road Primary School, Michelle Johnston welcomed the news as a "positive step", but said she also has concerns over the size of the site. She explained the "demographic" has changed in the years it has taken to progress the application as enrolment figures are rising – particularly at Fane Street and Donegall Road primary schools.
When asked if she shared the other principals' concerns, Catherine Roulston said: "That is always a concern, but equally we realise there aren't a lot of other sites in such a densely populated area; there aren't any other great options which are a neutral ground for all three communities."