Wednesday, 20 September 2017
Topical Issue Debate
Schools Building Projects
I welcome that the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, is here this evening to respond to this issue concerning the land in Harold's Cross which was purchased by his Department during the summer and the purpose for which that land will be used by it, which is an important issue for the people in my constituency and beyond.
The Minister will be aware that a number of years ago his Department approved the opening of a new post-primary school to service the Dublin 2, 4, 6 and 8 postal districts. It has been communicated to the persons involved in the new school that the school will open in September 2018. As the Minister will no doubt be aware, following a patronage process announced by his Department in early 2016, Educate Together was approved the patronage of the new secondary school. Since then, in May of this year it was announced that the Department of Education and Skills had purchased the former greyhound track in Harold's Cross and it is to be used to accommodate new schools. In terms of this Topical Issue, I am asking the Minister to consider the use of the land in Harold's Cross to accommodate the new Educate Together secondary school. It is a priority in the area that this school is constructed as soon as possible.
For the purpose of determining whether a new school was required, the Department carried out a report on the patronage of the school and what catchment area was suitable for a new school. As I said, it was concluded that a school was needed to serve the Dublin 2, 4, 6 and 8 areas. Taking that area of land, the meeting point in terms of the areas to be covered by the new school is an area near my constituency called La Touche Bridge. It is the centre point of the catchment area. In terms of the land available at the former greyhound track in Harold's Cross, it is the ideal location for the new school as it is only 1.4 km from La Touche Bridge. I suggest that it would be an ideal location. It is important that steps are taken to establish a new multi-denominational, co-educational, non-fee paying secondary school in the area. Many of the secondary schools in the area are single sex fee paying schools. They are all excellent schools but there is limited choice for parents who wish to send their children to a non-fee paying school or a secondary school that is multi-denominational and co-educational.
I understand that Educate Together has done a considerable amount of work in respect of assessing the demand for this school. The demand exists. There is ample land at the former greyhound track to facilitate construction of a school and playing fields. There is an urgency around this issue in light of the announcement that the school will open in September 2018. There are many stands beneath the former greyhound stadium that could be converted to classrooms on a temporary basis. I urge the Minister to give consideration to constructing the new school on this land, which is in the centre of the catchment area, has been purchased by his Department, and would be hugely popular in the area.
I thank Deputy O'Callaghan for raising this issue. This is a very significant purchase by the Department. From our point of view, it is an area where it is difficult to get land and we were very pleased to get the opportunity to acquire this site. As the Deputy will be aware, courtesy of Dublin City Council the land has been rezoned from recreational and part residential zoning to Z15 zoning, which is to protect and provide for institutional and community uses. This rezoning, agreed by the city council only this week, will facilitate the provision of a school on the site. Conveyancing and so on must be completed before plans for the development of the site can commence.
The Deputy is aware of how the system works. There are 314 school planning areas across the country. While this site is directly in the Dublin 6-Clonskeagh area, there are four other adjoining planning areas whose trends we would examine. The expectation of the Department is that in the future there will be very significant requirement for additional school places at post primary level in these areas. It is projected that as many as 5,000 places will be needed over the medium term.
Against that background, this is a very significant acquisition by the Department. It will help us to plan for pressures both at primary and post-primary level.
The precise usage of the school will have to be determined by the Department. A demographic review is taking place. If it reveals pressure for an additional school, that would go through the system the Deputy described under which Educate Together was selected for a post-primary school. There would once again be an opportunity for parents' preferences to be expressed in regard to whose patronage should arise.
I have carefully noted the Deputy's comments regarding the suitability of this site for a particular school. As he can understand, any such issues will have to be carefully evaluated by the Department. It will not be a political decision, rather it will be a decision based on the best interests of planning the future of the area. Given the capacity of the site, although it is constrained, I believe the Department would hope it could have both a primary and a post-primary school on it, if it can be developed. Good design of such a site would be the first matter the Department would examine, namely, the potential of the site and what are the best ways to deploy that resource to meet the needs. I will pass on the Deputy's points about the particular patron and about the school that is developing. As he will be aware, there is an early stage after a school starts up and builds up its numbers where there is usually time to anticipate what is the best way to meet the needs of the school as it develops.
I thank the Minister for his response. I appreciate that he cannot give a definitive answer in respect of whether the land will be used for this Educate Together secondary school, but I would urge him and his Department to bear in mind that a decision should be made on this as soon as possible. The Educate Together secondary school is due to open in September 2018. That is what the Department had indicated. As a result of that, the patronage and the parents have indicated that it is already heavily subscribed. It is already fully subscribed for its first year with a significant waiting list. That reflects the level of demand and the necessity for such a school in the area. I urge the Minister to take that on board in order that decisions can be made on a prompt basis.
The new secondary school will ultimately provide up to 1,000 secondary school places. I note what the Minister said about the intention being to perhaps house a primary school and a post-primary school there. That would be an excellent idea. There is a significant amount of land available there in an area of Dublin where it is hard to get land. There would be a benefit in having a primary and post-primary school together but there is no reason that cannot occur with the Educate Together secondary school using that site on a temporary basis. It would only start off with one year there and the works could be done at the same time.
I know that individuals associated with this school are concerned about the fact that a decision has not as of yet been forthcoming from the Department as to where the school will be based. I have spoken to Vanessa Barcroft, a representative of the school, who is anxious to ensure that it is up and running as soon as possible. Educate Together is also anxious and is awaiting confirmation from the Department on the location of the new school. As it is the case that the school is to open in fewer than 12 months but no confirmation has been received to date as to its location, it is incumbent upon the Department to communicate with the patron and the individuals involved.
This is a hugely positive project. It is enormously supported by people in the locality, the Harold's Cross council, which looks after the issues affecting Harold's Cross. It would be a great development for the future. I urge the Minister not to let the potential for an Educate Together school to be on that site to be lost. There is an opportunity for that but we need to align the timings so that it can happen.
I have noted what the Deputy said. I have attended Harold's Cross on many occasions, not for schooling, only for the schooling dogs. Whether it would be appropriate to use that site as a temporary one for education while its longer-term potential is being designed and assessed by the Department is an issue that I would have to refer to those who are expert in designing and planning. I note what the Deputy said and I will bring it to the attention of those who are more intimately involved in evaluation of how this site can be best deployed to meet the local school needs. I am delighted our acquisition of this site has been received so positively in the community and that people see the potential of this. It is important in areas of the city like that where, as the Deputy said, there is a need for non-fee charging post-primary schools to develop that we have a site now where we can plan for the future.