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School sites on prime development land across Northern Ireland left lying empty

 

By Rebecca Black

There are 25 closed schools lying vacant - in some cases on prime development land - across Northern Ireland, it can be revealed.

Three of the sites have been allowed to languish for half a century, while others belong to schools that have been closed between the 1980s and 2000s.

Two have been closed in the last two years, the Belfast Telegraph has discovered following a Freedom Of Information Act request to the Education Authority (EA).

However, the EA defended it's record, saying it has successfully disposed of 11 former schools, and also pointed out that some of the properties can be complex in terms of legal titles around them.

The oldest site still owned by the EA is the Causeway School, Bushmills, which closed its doors as a school in 1962. The school building, which opened in 1915, had been operated as a living history experience from 1987 but closed in 2013.

It was given in trust to the former North Eastern Education and Library Board to be used for educational purposes.

However, in 2013 the board said it cannot continue to run the service due to budget constraints and it has now passed into the ownership of the EA, which replaced the five former education and library boards.

Just two of the school sites are currently being used by the EA while the remaining 23 are lying vacant.

The EA said the former Vere Foster Primary School in west Belfast is currently being used, while the former Orangefield High School site in east Belfast is being held for "future education provision".

In 2015 the derelict Orangefield buildings were used for filming by the gritty BBC drama The Fall.

Three of the school sites are currently on the market, including Minterburn Primary School, Caledon, which was closed in 2008, Derriaghy Primary School, Lisburn, which was closed in 2011 and Faughan Valley High School in Londonderry which was closed in 2007.

Meanwhile, the site where the former Kindle Primary School in Ballykinler once stood may be acquired by Newry, Mourne and Down Council, with plans to build a new community centre.

In 2011, the Belfast Telegraph revealed there were then 43 former schools in the ownership of the former education and library boards, which have since been replaced by a single body, the Education Authority.

Since the EA was formed in 2015, it has raised almost £3m in funding from selling old school buildings, which was passed to the Department of Education.

The biggest sale price netted was £1.7m for land to the rear of Clifton Special School.

Six figure sums were also secured for the former Keady Primary School site (£468,750) and the former Maghera High School site (£400,000) which was purchased by the former Mid-Ulster Council in 2015.

It includes 24 acres of prime industrial land.

Other sites sold for more modest amounts, including just £60,000 for Ballypriormore Primary School in Islandmagee.

The latter is set to become a home after planning permission was granted in 2014 for conversion into a detached house.

An Education Authority spokesperson said: "When an EA property becomes vacant, it may be put to alternative use, retained for a future educational use or disposed of in line with current guidance from Land and Property Services.

"In the last two years, EA has successfully disposed of 11 closed schools.

"In some cases there are reasons why disposing of properties can take an extended period of time like a complex legal title.

"In all cases, EA manages expenditure on vacant properties by reducing all associated costs to a minimum ensuring buildings are safe and secure."

THE 25 SCHOOL SITES WHICH ARE LYING VACANT IN NORTHERN IRELAND

Collone Primary School, Armagh

Toberlane Primary School, Cookstown

Minterburn Primary School, Caledon

Dromore Central Primary School

Annaghmore Primary School, Portadown

Buslee Primary School, Ballyclare

Causeway School, Bushmills

Tullybane Primary School, Cloughmills

Tullygawley Primary School, Ballymena

Upper Buckna Primary School, Broughshane

Brookfield Special School, Moira

Ballykeigle Primary School, Comber

Derriaghy Primary School, Lisburn

O'Neill Memorial Primary School, Crossnacreevy

Ravernette Primary School, Lisburn

Kindle Primary School, Ballykinler

Faughan Valley High School, Londonderry

Former Ebrington Primary School site, Londonderry

School of Music, Donegall Pass, Belfast

Ballygolan Primary School, Newtownabbey

Mount Gilbert College (land only), Belfast

Vere Foster Primary School (land only), Belfast

Orangefield High School (land only), Belfast

Suffolk Primary School (land only), Belfast

Former Cavehill Primary School (land only), Belfast

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