St Joseph's High School, Crossmaglen: New Build

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 2nd March 2015.

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Photo of Dominic Bradley Dominic Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:45 pm, 2nd March 2015

1. Mr D Bradley asked the Minister of Education for an update on the proposal for a new build at St Joseph's High School, Crossmaglen. (AQO 7691/11-15)

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

The first draft of the feasibility study for the new build at St Joseph's High School was submitted to the Department in week ending 20 February 2015. When the feasibility study has been signed off, the Department will undertake an economic appraisal and business case. DFP approval will be required for this business case due to the value of the project. Provided that there is no delay due to issues with the feasibility study, it is anticipated that business case approval could be obtained as early as April 2015. The procurement of the integrated design team to take forward the project as a design and build will be carried out in tandem with the preparation of the business case. However, the appointment cannot be made until the approval of the business case is obtained. This project is still at early planning stage and hence there is not yet a programme time frame available for the build and design.

Photo of Dominic Bradley Dominic Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an fhreagra sin. Seo an chéad lá de Sheachtain na Gaeilge agus tá súil agam go ndéanfaidh gach Comhalta a dhícheall a oiread Gaeilge agus is féidir a labhairt le linn Sheachtain na Gaeilge. I thank the Minister. It is, of course, the first day of Irish Language Week, so I urge all Members to do their best to use Irish during their questions or answers.

As I said, I thank the Minister for his answer. The Minister will know that I have raised this issue on a number of occasions, and he has responded very positively by visiting the school and through his announcement of funding. Can the Minister give us an assurance that his Department will facilitate the new-build process in every way possible?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Chomhalta as a cheist. I thank the Member for his question, and I welcome his comments about Seachtain na Gaeilge.

I can assure the Member that I am wedded to this project. My Department and I are driving it forward, and he will note even from my answer that we are working our way through the project. It is quite a significant public investment, and we have to follow the proper protocol and policies, not only of my Department but of DFP. I think that things are moving forward well, and, without being pre-emptive, if we can get the business case approved by April, that will move us to the next stage.

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP

While the Minister is answering questions about my constituency, can he let us know whether he will prioritise a new build for Markethill High School in County Armagh?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

We have quite a significant number of schools in our estate at primary level and post-primary level that require new builds or significant investment. I am not in a position to announce any further building programmes at this stage. How the budget, particularly the capital budget, works out through 2015-16 will decide whether any future capital investment announcements are made during this Assembly term. It may be the duty of the next Assembly or the next Minister to make announcements around future builds in the years beyond 2015-16, but I continue to keep the situation under review.

Photo of Raymond McCartney Raymond McCartney Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a freagraí. I thank the Minister for his answers to date. There is a good presentation here in relation to capital build projects in Newry and Armagh. Will the Minister take this opportunity to give an update on capital projects across the North?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Chomhalta as an cheist. I have made a number of announcements since coming into post. In 2012, I made an announcement of 18 projects, valued at £133 million. Eight school builds are now on site. Arvalee special school is due to go on site in March 2015, with a further five going on site early in the start of the next financial year. St Gerard's resource centre is now complete. In 2013, there was an announcement of a total of 22 projects, valued at £222 million. Currently, there are eight business cases approved, and work is progressing well on the remainder.

Eight of the projects are expected to move on to site in 2015-16, subject to availability of capital in subsequent years. I also made an announcement in 2014. The projects are at the very early stage of planning and are going through the appropriate policy development and business cases etc. It is vital that we are able to announce capital builds because it takes a significant number of years from announcement to put a new build on site. So, we do that years in advance, and we have to ensure that the money is there to follow that up.

Unfortunately, my Department's capital budget is not what I would like to have seen, and I am sure that that is the case for my Executive colleagues as well. We all want to see further investment in capital across the Executive, but I will keep the situation under review, and if I believe that it is appropriate to make an announcement of further capital builds for years going forward, I will do so later in 2015.

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker

Questions 3, 4 and 7 have been withdrawn.