Thursday, 14 January 2016
I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to raise this important matter. There is an issue in Asbourne, County Meath, in respect of a 23 acre site which the Department of Education and Skills has bought to use as a temporary campus for Coláiste De Lacy which is the new much needed second level school. The site is in two parts on two sides of a road. One part is residential with approval for housing under planning permission, the second part is zoned for green space, a linear park and river walk beside the Broadmeadow River. Meath County Council has been in contact with the Department of Education and Skills seeking to open up that site for the community on the land which the Department owns, which is zoned for a linear park. As I understand it that section zoned for a linear park is not required by the Department for educational purposes.
In its capital development plan, Meath County Council has already allocated and approved €1.1 million to develop a linear park for Asbourne which is one of the fastest growing towns in Ireland. There is a dire need for this type of facility in the town. The park has been planned for at least 12 years. Many houses have been built as part of other zoning objectives but this particular park has not got off the ground. The Department of Education and Skills may say it will take a few years to sell the land and move the school on. I understand this particular site is not needed for the school. It may take a few years for somebody to apply for planning permission for housing construction and in the meantime Asbourne has no public park.
I urge the Department of Education and Skills and the Minister to liaise with Meath County Council with a view to arriving at an arrangement that benefits everybody, ensuring that the temporary campus for Coláiste De Lacy is secure - I understand it is - but also that the Department plays its part to ensure the zoning objectives in terms of what is required for the community in Asbourne are achieved. Some 77% of the population of Asbourne are under 44 years of age. There is a huge number of young families in the town who need a park and space to play. The Department of Education and Skills is sitting on land that is not necessary for school purposes but which can be developed immediately by Meath County Council if made available to it. If this was a private developer we would be urging him to open up this land. I appeal to the Department of Education and Skills to work on this issue with Meath County Council. I am grateful to my colleague, Councillor Seán Smith, in Ashbourne who has been working on this issue for some time and who has asked me to raise it here. It is a crucial issue and there must be a way for the Department to engage with the local authority with a view to having the land released and, ultimately, to have the park opened for the people of Ashbourne.
On behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, I thank the Senator for raising this matter. The Department of Education and Skills is aware of Meath County Council's plans to develop a linear park in Ashbourne.As outlined by the Senator, the proposed park includes a portion of land alongside the Broadmeadow River which is in the Minister's ownership. As the Senator may be aware, the Department acquired two portions of land in Ashbourne to meet school accommodation requirements in the town. One of
these portions was acquired for the purpose of providing a campus solution with school accommodation for the De Lacy College, Gaelscoil na Mí and Ashbourne Educate Together national school. The second portion, adjacent to the new campus, was acquired to facilitate access to the permanent site and it also facilitates temporary accommodation for the post-primary school pending completion of the construction project.
The post-primary school De Lacy College opened in September 2014 in temporary accommodation. It is proposed to deliver a 1,000 pupil post-primary school for De Lacy College, to be delivered in two phases. Construction on the first phase, to accommodate 450 pupils, is currently under way and is expected to be completed towards the end of 2016. Gaelscoil na Mí opened in temporary accommodation at Donaghmore-Ashbourne GAA Club in September 2011. A new permanent 16-classroom building for the school is under construction and this accommodation is also expected to be delivered by the end of 2016. Ashbourne Educate Together national school opened in temporary accommodation in September 2012 and is currently accommodated on the grounds of Ashbourne and District Community Council. Construction is also under way on a new permanent 16-classroom building for this school and, as with Gaelscoil na Mí, assuming no issues arise, this building is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
Ultimately, some of the lands currently in the Minister’s ownership adjacent to the new Ashbourne school campus will become surplus to the Department’s requirements. When they are no longer needed, the Department may consider disposing of these lands. Any such disposal would be conducted in accordance with the recent protocol for the intra-State transfer of State property assets, as circulated by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. In the context of the Department’s close working relationship with Meath County Council in respect of school site acquisitions, the Department will consult with the local authority in the first instance regarding any such disposal. Officials in Meath County Council have recently requested the Department to consider the disposal of a portion of the land adjacent to the new campus for the purpose of the development of the linear park. A meeting is currently being arranged between officials from the Department and officials from the local authority with a view to discussing the matter.
I wish to thank the Senator again on behalf of the Minister for giving me the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the current position regarding the lands in question in Ashbourne, County Meath.
I do not have a question but I do have a comment. This is probably one of the more positive responses the community has received in that at least the Department is open to meeting Meath County Council with a view to discussing the matter of the disposal of what we would say are unnecessary lands. I certainly hope that it happens and that it happens as soon as possible and that Meath County Council can get access to these lands, be it by lease or purchase, and develop them as a park for the community, which is badly needed in Ashbourne.
I will convey what the Senator has said to the Minister. The Minister and the Department should be thanked for the major development that is going on in Ashbourne at the moment. Many communities in the country, no doubt, would envy such development that is there in terms of school accommodation. I am glad there is co-operation between the Department and Meath County Council.