Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Questions (66)

Clare Daly

Question:

66. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Education and Skills to outline the steps taken since 22 May 2018 to move forward with the delivery of the new school building for a school (details supplied) in view of the fact that Fingal County Council has stated that it has advanced the site acquisition as far as it can; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28858/18]

View answer

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Education)

We agreed to forfeit the 30 seconds.

As the Deputy is aware, a project to deliver a new building for the school to which she refers is included in my Department's capital programme. As outlined previously, the site acquisition process in respect of this project proved to be extremely challenging. Although officials in my Department proposed an alternative and more expedient accommodation solution, the school authority stated a preference for the site acquisition process to proceed. The Department officials have, therefore, continued to engage with officials in the relevant local authority under the memorandum of understanding for the acquisition of school sites with a view to securing a site for the school.

I have previously outlined to the Deputy that my officials were working to clarify some technical aspects associated with the proposed development of the site. This assessment process has been completed and the outcome communicated to officials in the local authority. Engagement with the landowner is now under way with a view to finalising the terms of the acquisition and progressing matters as expeditiously as possible. Simultaneously, my officials are working to advance the project to planning stages and will be progressing this in tandem with the finalisation of the site acquisition.

The problem is that we are at the end of the school term now. Parents, teachers and children are none the wiser about when this school will actually be developed. The school has been operating out of a converted farmhouse for years in wholly unsuitable circumstances.

The Minister's has told me virtually word-for-word what he told me on 6 June in a letter. We are one month on and I am still not any clearer on the position. When is the planning application going in? The Minister told me on 6 June that the development of the site assessment and the technical aspects would be sorted. He said that assuming no issues arose the project would proceed straight away to the terms of site acquisition. Is the Minister now saying that no issues have arisen? Is the site acquisition in the process of being finalised? When will the conveyancing process be dealt with by the solicitors? When will the planning application go in? When will parents and children find out when this project, which is planned, will actually begin to be delivered?

Since Deputy Daly last raised this question, the various technical issues which related to access and connections to services have been addressed. They were the challenges. The clarifications needed were provided. Those involved are satisfied that they can resolve the issues but the resolution will impact on the contracts and so on. That work is being undertaken now. No unnecessary delay is occurring. Those responsible are seeking to progress this but, obviously, before they can submit final planning documents they must have all the i's dotted and t's crossed. That is the reality.

What the Minister is saying is that the technical issues have been identified and resolved and that these are not impediments to the project.

A second question then arises. The terms of the site acquisition can now be finalised. When is that likely? When will the conveyancing be completed? When will the planning application be put in? The Minister says there has been no unnecessary delay. That is fine on one level, but the parents and children have been in this school for well over ten years in most unsuitable circumstances and it has been an incredibly long wait for them. They need some concrete answers on when the nightmare will begin to end.

I am not a technical person but as I understand it the project requires various rights of way and wayleaves. Those responsible need to be satisfied that the proposed solution meets planning requirements in terms of whatever building standards are to be met. That involves certain infrastructure upgrades that have to be put in place. Certain links in the chain have to be put in place for this to be robust.

How long is it likely to take?

They cannot give a definitive timeframe. It is the nature of these things that, with the best will in the world, we cannot foresee everything. It may involve either getting wayleaves or satisfying planners that the standards are met by whatever is being proposed. None of these things is in the hands of the design team alone. They require a counterparty to sign up. Even with the best endeavours I cannot give timelines. All I can assure the Deputy of is that this is actively being pursued by the officials in my Department and the design team involved.

Questions Nos. 67-69, inclusive replied to with Written Answers.