Written Answers. - Departmental Staff.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

233 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of persons employed in the building unit of his Department; the number of vacancies that exist; the average or typical length of time it takes to process an application; the number of applications outstanding; the plans to reduce these waiting times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29966/00]

There are currently 104.5 serving staff and 15 vacancies in the administrative, professional and technical grades in the planning and building unit of my Department, all dealing with planning and building projects at primary level, second level and third level. There are in excess of 2,250 projects currently being processed.

The length of time required to complete a school building project, from inception to completion, varies very substantially.

In the case of all major projects, my Department in the first instance has to undertake an assessment of the long-term needs of an area to determine if the level of school accommodation sought is warranted by virtue of the current and projected enrolments. This process requires that some attention be focused on the possibilities, if any, for rationalisation of existing schools within the area.

The availability of a suitable site assists enormously in the delivery of a new building. When it is necessary to acquire a site, the identification of a site, negotiating with the landowner, procurement of valuation, procurement of outline planning permission, and attending to conveyance matters all take time to complete.

The process of appointing a design team to commence the planning process also impacts on delivery times. Compliance with EU procurement procedures alone takes a minimum of three to four months to complete.

The rate of progress to construction depends on factors such as the complexity and size of the project, the time required to undertake architectural planning, the volume of other projects being dealt with by the design team and my Department's building unit, the period of time required for the granting of planning permission and obtaining a fire certificate, the outcome of the tender competition and the procurement, where relevant, of bonds, insurance and tax clearance by prospective contractors.

The number of projects proceeding to tender and construction in a particular year is also governed by the allocation of funding for school buildings in that year.

A broad ranging review of business practices within the building unit of my Department is under way. The core objectives of this review are to streamline practices and to require school management authorities to manage their projects more actively. I am pleased to say that the review is nearing completion.