The purchase of new school sites is underpinned by a thorough assessment of the need for new educational facilities at primary or post-primary level in any given area. The process takes account of all relevant factors, including enrolment and demographic trends, housing developments and the type and extent of existing school provision serving the area.
As part of the process, my Department monitors county development plans and area action plans and meets local authorities as required to establish the location, scale and pace of major housing developments. An assessment is carried out of the likely implications of such developments in respect of the capacity of any existing schools and, where appropriate, the local authority is requested to reserve a site for educational purposes. Such reservations may ultimately result in the acquisition of the site and the development of a school or schools.
Ultimate acquisition of sites is dependent on the availability of funding and the priority to be accorded to each individual project. The same criteria used to prioritise large-scale capital projects are also used to prioritise site acquisitions. These criteria were first published in the 2003 school building programme and are again set out in the 2004 programme which I published in December 2003.
With funding of €32 million available in 2004 for site acquisitions, my Department intends to purchase a significant number of sites during 2004. However, due to commercial sensitivities of site acquisition, it is not proposed at this stage to identify the specific sites to be acquired. However, this information will be placed on my Department's website when the relevant acquisitions have been completed.