Thursday, 25 October 2007
Schools Building Projects
I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this important issue. There is an urgent need for a new primary school in the Rochestown area of Cork city. This area has experienced a huge increase in population, with the development of thousands of houses. However, there is no provision for adequate facilities such as a primary school in the area.
The majority of people living in the area comprise young families with children of school-going age. The parents are obliged to drive their children to other schools, adding to traffic congestion and increasing the pupil-teacher ratio in those schools. I am concerned that the quality of education the children receive is not as good as it should be due to the density of numbers in the classes. There is an urgent need for a new school to be built in the area.
The schools planning section of the Department has confirmed that a new primary school is required in Rochestown. The property management section of the Department has identified a suitable site and it has been reserved by Cork County Council for the provision of a new educational facility. However, the fundamental difficulty is the timescale for the provision of the school, which has not yet been determined. I hope the Minister will be able to outline a timetable for the delivery of the school. He might also clarify the position regarding the land that has been set aside for the school in the Foxwood estate area. There are contradictory rumours about the land which should be clarified. It is suggested that the land might be returned to the developer.
What is the timescale for the building of the new school? There is an urgent need for it in Rochestown.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it affords me the opportunity to outline to the House the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects and to outline the position regarding a new primary school in Rochestown. Modernising facilities in our 3,200 primary and 750 post-primary schools is not an easy task given the legacy of decades of under-investment in this area as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth.
Nonetheless, since taking office, this Government has shown a focused determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum. As evidence of this commitment, more than €540 million will be spent in the next year on school building and modernisation projects for primary and post-primary schools throughout the country. Since 1997, a total of €3 billion has been invested in school buildings and this has delivered more than 7,800 school building projects. This further investment of more than €540 million will build on these achievements and will focus in particular on the provision of school accommodation in areas where the population is growing at a rapid rate. As further evidence of our commitment, national development plan funding of €4.5 billion will be invested in schools in the coming years.
The Senator will agree this record level of investment is a positive testament to the high priority the Government attaches to ensuring school accommodation is of the highest standard possible. My Department has a number of proactive strategies to ensure the accommodation requirements for schools in developing areas such as Rochestown are addressed in a manner that will meet the long-term education needs of the population.
The process of assessing the need for new or additional accommodation facilities at primary level in any given area entails consideration of all relevant factors, including enrolment and demographic trends, housing developments and existing school capacity to meet current or future demand. As part of the process, my Department is included among the prescribed authorities to whom local authorities are statutorily obliged to send draft development plans or variations to development plans. As a matter of course, meetings are arranged with local authorities to establish the location, scale and pace of housing developments and their implications for both current and future school provision.
Turning to the specific issue of a new primary school in Rochestown, the Office of Public Works, which acts on behalf of my Department for site acquisitions, has secured a site for the provision of a new school. In addition, the new schools advisory committee has received applications for the patronage of the proposed new primary school. The building programme required to deliver the new school building will be considered in the context of the school building and modernisation programme.
I assure the Senator that the Department is actively progressing the application for the provision of a new primary school in Rochestown. I thank him again for raising the matter and allowing me to outline the position regarding the provision of a new primary school in Rochestown.