Schools Building Projects - Harold's Cross Educate Together Secondary School | Commencement Matter

22 March 2021

Ivana Bacik

Senator Ivana Bacik:

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank her for being here to take this Commencement matter. I have asked for the Minister for Education to provide me with an update on the status of a school's application for the construction of a permanent building and to provide a timeline for the commencement of construction. The matter relates to a school in my local area, indeed a very small distance from where I live, namely, the new Harold's Cross Educate Together Secondary School, which opened just recently, in September 2020. Its enrolment numbers are projected to reach 1,000 secondary school pupils. It is a co-educational secondary school. The projection is that it will have four classrooms and a special educational needs unit. It serves the two school planning areas of Dublin 6 Clonskeagh and Dublin 6W. It is currently housed, however, in temporary buildings at the site of the former greyhound racing stadium at Harold's Cross. This will also be the permanent location of the school, which will form a campus comprising a permanent building for the secondary school and a permanent school for Harold's Cross Educate Together National School, the primary school, which is currently also in interim accommodation on the same site.

I tabled a Commencement matter relating to this school on 9 December last because at that point the principal and school community had been in contact with me to say they were concerned about the delays in progressing the construction of the permanent building on the site. Staff, students and parents are all very anxious that the construction be commenced or at least that they get a timeline for construction. Therefore, on 9 December I put this matter down on the Commencement of the House. I was told by the Minister then that the planning application would be lodged with Dublin City Council by mid-quarter 1 of 2021. That would have been by mid-February. Unfortunately, I was informed just last week that the planning application was not in fact submitted to Dublin City Council by that date, and clearly we are now in mid to late March. I therefore tabled this matter at the request of the school community seeking to be provided with a timeline for commencement of construction and to get an update on the status of the application. I was told that the planning application was at stage 2(a) in December but, as I said, on 9 December the Minister, Deputy Foley, had confirmed to me that the planning application was intended to be lodged by the middle of the first quarter.

The secondary school and the primary school form a very vibrant school community. Despite all the challenges of Covid, the secondary school has opened successfully and has a large waiting list for 2021. There are 37 students enrolled for the current academic year, and I am told that for September 2021 an additional 48 student places are sanctioned by the Department but 180 applications have been received. There is clearly no space available, or there will be insufficient space, to accommodate projected numbers certainly from 2022 and beyond. The school would need to offer 72 places in 2022 to meet demand. The matter is very pressing. The students, staff and parents are all very anxious to receive some clarification from the Department on the status of the application and the timeline for construction of a permanent building on this site.

Minister of State Josepha Madigan:

I thank Senator Bacik for raising this matter. I hope to outline to her satisfaction the current position on the provision of a permanent school building for Harold's Cross Educate Together Secondary School. It is, as the Senator said, a co-educational second level school which will provide 1,000 post-primary school places and a four-classroom special educational needs unit to serve the Dublin 6 Clonskeagh and Dublin 6W school planning areas as a regional solution. As the Senator also said, the school opened its doors for the first intake of pupils in September 2020 in interim accommodation on the site of the former greyhound racing stadium at Harold's Cross.

This will be the permanent location of the school. The site will also form a campus accommodating the permanent school building for Harold's Cross Educate Together National School, which also, as the Senator is aware, currently is in interim accommodation on the site.

I understand the joint building project for both schools is currently at an advanced architectural planning stage and an initial design for the campus was previously presented to Dublin City Council in a pre-planning meeting in August 2019. Thereafter, owing to various changes that were subsequently required to the design, a further pre-planning meeting with Dublin City Council was held on 26 January 2021. The plans were met with a positive response by Dublin City Council and its comments are being addressed in order to finalise the preparation of the planning application for the schools. I have been told by the Department that the schools' representatives will be invited to a meeting shortly, where the plans will be presented in advance of lodging the planning application, which, as the Senator mentioned, was due to happen in the first quarter of this year.

Previous planning permission for interim accommodation on the site was appealed to An Bord Pleanála. It is important to state there is a strong possibility that the planning permission for the permanent build, once secured, could also be appealed to An Bord Pleanála. However, it is good to hear that the opening of the secondary school has been successful. I note what the Senator has said on the issue of the waiting list. At this point, it is important that the planning application is submitted and that the school is opened as soon as possible. I will bring the issue to the attention of the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, as obviously all school buildings and the roll-out of such projects fall under her remit. I will tell her that the Senator is anxious to see this matter expedited as soon as possible.

Senator Ivana Bacik:

I thank the Minister of State and I am glad to receive an update from her in respect of the holding of the pre-planning meeting with Dublin City Council on 26 January and her assurance that school representatives will be invited to a meeting shortly with a view to seeing those plans. That is most heartening, because it amounts so some progress, albeit slower than we had hoped.

I also thank the Minister of State for her commitment to speaking with the Minister, Deputy Foley, to ask her if she can do as much as she can to expedite matters. I should say that the members of the school community - they are well aware of the context mentioned by the Minister of State - are concerned that the five-year planning permission for temporary accommodation for all three schools on the campus, which was granted in 2018, will expire in August 2023. They are most concerned that the students currently attending the school started in temporary accommodation but should not finish it in such a manner when they complete their leaving certificate in 2026. However, to have the permanent construction in place by then, planning permission would need to be granted at the latest by winter 2022 or spring 2023 to ensure there is adequate time. The school community is anxious to get started on this and I am very grateful for the Minister of State telling me she will do all she can to ensure that it is expedited.

Minister of State Josepha Madigan:

I should say that as with all school building projects, the exact timeframe for the delivery of permanent accommodation will be dependent on securing the grant of planning permission and until the planning permission is secured, it would be premature to estimate the timeframe for the tender and construction of the two schools. However, once planning permission is secured, the project for both schools will then be progressed for tender and construction stages, and the management authorities of the two schools will be kept fully informed. In the meantime, the Department will continue to address the schools' interim accommodation needs, which is important.

Suffice to say that the school representatives will be invited to a meeting soon, where plans will be presented in advance of lodging the planning application, which I hope will help. The Senator should also bear in mind my comments in relation to An Bord Pleanála but I will do everything I can do ensure that it is expedited. I will bring the issue to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Foley, and of the building and planning unit.