Seanad debates

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Photo of Dominic HanniganDominic Hannigan (Labour)
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I wish to raise the need for an additional school in the Johnstown area in Navan. The surrounding area is a demographic time bomb. Meath has grown by 200% in the past ten years, with much of that growth concentrated around the towns and villages in the county. Navan, the county town, has seen significant growth in recent years, predominantly along its boundaries, where the Johnstown area is in the south-east quadrant.

Many of those who have moved there have young children who are currently at primary school and, while there is no huge issue with the availability of primary school places, although there are issues about class size, there will be a problem at secondary level in a few years. All studies indicate significant numbers of children will require access to post-primary education and this is a cause of anxiety for many parents. They are worried that when the time comes to send their children to second level schooling they will not be able to find places for them, or their children will have to move to other parts of Navan or further away to other villages. In view of the fact we can see that a problem will occur in a few years, I hope the Government and the Minister's Department have examined this issue and have some plans for how to deal with this time bomb.

Can the Minister confirm that the Department is planning a new school in the Johnstown area? If so, has a site been identified? Has the Department met with officials from Meath County Council or Navan Town Council to establish the future population levels in the area? Where does the provision of a school sit regarding the Department's prioritisation list?

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe. I thank the Senator for raising the matter. It is a real problem, particularly in the greater Dublin area, including adjoining counties. This affords me the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the process being utilised to ensure there will be adequate accommodation in schools at primary and post-primary level in all parts of the country.

The forward planning section of the Department is in the process of identifying the areas where significant additional accommodation will be required at primary and post-primary level for future years. Factors under consideration include population growth, demographic trends, current and projected enrolments, recent and planned housing developments and the capacity of existing schools to meet the demand for places. Having considered these factors, decisions will be taken on the means by which emerging needs will be met within an area.

The forward planning section of the Department utilises the latest GIS technology to assist in planning school requirements in the future. The geographical information system contains information on all schools in the country, at both primary and post-primary level. A range of demographic information is linked spatially to the relevant schools and this allows the Department to map various demographic scenarios at local level. Typically the demographic information will be from the Central Statistics Office, the General Register Office, the Department of Social and Family Affairs, An Post's geo-directory and information supplied by local authorities through development plans. Growth projection figures are applied to the existing population with a view to assessing future requirements at primary and post-primary level.

As a matter of course, there is ongoing liaison between the Department and local authorities to establish the location, scale and pace of any major proposed developments and their possible implications for school provision. In this context the forward planning section has made a submission to the draft development plan for Navan in which the land requirements for additional post-primary provision were outlined, based on projected population figures provided by Meath County Council.

Officials from the forward planning section recently met with officials from Meath County Council and among the issues discussed were the future post-primary requirements for Navan town. Two sites have been reserved in Navan as part of the current six-year development plan to facilitate the provision of additional post-primary schools should they be required. Given the demographic projections, Department of Education and Science officials are satisfied this will be adequate to cater for post-primary requirements in Navan for the lifetime of the current development plan.

The delivery of any additional post-primary school facilities in Navan will depend on the pace and scale of housing developments in the area. The forward planning section will continue to monitor planned developments and population growth in the Navan area to ensure school accommodation needs are provided in a timely manner. I thank the Senator for raising this matter.

Photo of Dominic HanniganDominic Hannigan (Labour)
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I thank the Minister.