Schools: 20 mph Speed Limit

Oral Answers to Questions — Infrastructure – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 26th April 2021.

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Photo of Harry Harvey Harry Harvey DUP 2:45 pm, 26th April 2021

1. Mr Harvey asked the Minister for Infrastructure why she did not introduce a speed limit of 20 mph at Grey Abbey Primary School. (AQO 1933/17-22)

Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton DUP

4. Mr Easton asked the Minister for Infrastructure what schools across North Down will be included in the 20 mph speed limit schemes for this financial year. (AQO 1936/17-22)

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I was pleased to be able to commit funding towards the first tranche of part-time 20 mph speed limits at 103 schools across Northern Ireland. Those measures will increase driver awareness aimed at reducing vehicle speeds outside and near those schools to provide a safer environment for parents, children and staff as they go to and from school on a daily basis. Six schools in the Ards and North Down Borough Council area were included in the first tranche of the part-time 20 mph speed limits at schools programme, which is currently being rolled out and is due for completion in June.

Given the restricted budgets for works of this nature, as well as the practicalities of delivery, it was necessary to limit the number of schools in the programme to about 100. Unfortunately, on the basis of the assessment scores, Grey Abbey Primary School was not ranked as highly as the schools that were included. However, I intend to take forward a further tranche of part-time 20 mph speed limits at schools and can assure the Member that Grey Abbey Primary School will be considered for inclusion in the programme. Programmes across all council areas are being developed. Therefore, I am not in a position at this time to identify what schools in the north Down area might be included.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Can I clarify whether the Minister is taking question 1 with question 4, as we were pre-notified?

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

Mr Deputy Speaker, I was advised that question 4 had been withdrawn by the Business Office.

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

Yes, I am happy to offer my answer as a grouped answer, with your agreement, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Please do. Thank you. Do you want to add to that answer now?

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

No, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will offer that answer as the composite answer for both questions, and I am happy to answer the supplementary questions.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Yes, the Member will have a supplementary question.

Photo of Harry Harvey Harry Harvey DUP

I thank the Minister for her answer. What is the total cost to the Department of implementing the 20 mph limits at schools, considering that the cost of safety cannot easily be measured?

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for his question. The budget that I allocated for the roll-out of the first tranche was £2 million. While I have yet to make final decisions on the allocation of this year's budget, I am committed to the roll-out of the scheme because I believe that many more schools should be included in the 20 mph programme. That is my intention. I hope to finalise budgetary details in the very near future.

Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton DUP

The Minister knows what I will ask. Minister, can you explain why not one school in the North Down constituency has been included in the first tranche? Can you guarantee that Millisle Primary School and Crawfordsburn Primary School will be considered for the next tranche? It is unfair that North Down has missed out.

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for his question. He has made representations on the issue, so I realise its importance to him. To be fair and objective, the Department operated from an assessment framework that is long established. While it was not possible to extend the scheme to schools in the Member's constituency, I am committed to rolling it out further, and, as I have indicated in correspondence with the Member, all the schools will be considered for inclusion in that programme. As soon as I am in a position to confirm the details, I will ensure that the Member is made fully aware.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

As it happens, I spoke this morning to the chair of the board of Grey Abbey Primary School, who left me in no doubt about the deep anger in the community about the failure to provide the 20 mph zone. The community will note that, to date, the Minister has committed to nothing further than assessing Grey Abbey for tranche 2. I put it to the Minister that, if process is seen to take precedence over protecting the children whom we are here to look after, that anger will not dissipate.

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for his question. I have received a number of items of correspondence from the principal, the chair of the board of governors and other elected representatives in respect of that school, so I certainly understand the frustrations. I am advised by my officials that the principal has, for some time — a number of years, in fact — been in correspondence with the Department. I have offered to meet the principal of Grey Abbey Primary School as soon as I can get clarity on the second tranche. I want to do what we can to extend road safety and improve the safety of all our children. That includes the pupils who go to and from Grey Abbey Primary School daily.

Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance

I have written to the Department on the issue, and, on several occasions, I have met officials about the 20 mph limit. I thank the Minister for that. I am probably the only Member who drives past Grey Abbey Primary School every day, several times a day.

Could the criteria be reviewed? While Grey Abbey Primary School is on a 30 mph zone of the A20, articulated lorries pass within two feet of the school wall. It is an extremely dangerous, blind corner where children run across the road with the lollipop person to avoid being run over by the many milk lorries and tankers. I ask the Minister to consider, in respect of the second tranche, that Grey Abbey could never have been included in the initial tranche because it is in a 30 mph zone. In fact, it is one of the most dangerously located schools in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for her question. I am happy to give that feedback to my officials for their consideration of the second tranche of funding.

Photo of Liz Kimmins Liz Kimmins Sinn Féin

It will be no surprise to the Minister that I ask a question on the issue. As she knows, while the scheme is welcome, a very small number of schools in Newry and Armagh were included in the first tranche. I ask that any future roll-outs focus on areas that were not covered, so that schools in my constituency, such as Killean Primary School, St Clare's Abbey Primary School and St Joseph's High School might be included. Can the Minister also provide detail on how the Department decides which schools will be included?

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for her question. We had to limit the number of schools in the financial year just past, owing to the practicalities of delivery. I was keen, when we set out my ambition around the scheme, that we were able to deliver on it. That is why we thought carefully about the 100 schools. I am committed to continuing the roll-out. We have a departmental assessment framework that I have shared with a number of Members who have corresponded with me on the matter. The fact that we now have the limit present at 103 schools means that there will be many more schools that will be considered for it, including schools in the Member's constituency. I am happy to keep her updated. I have no doubt that she will continue to write to me on the matter as well.

Photo of Cara Hunter Cara Hunter Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the installation of 20 mph speed limits at many of our schools and the fact that protecting children is a priority for you, Minister. With your commitment to do more this year, from a financial perspective, have you received enough money from the Finance Minister to facilitate that?

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for her question. My Department has received an increase in capital funds from the 2020-21 opening capital budget. The resource budget, as always for my Department, is challenging, and that will have an impact as we seek to deliver on the range of capital projects in the Department. As I said, we have had budget allocations across from the Department of Finance. I am now working with my officials on the details of that to make the specific allocations in my Department. I assure Members that, as I have said since taking up the post, road safety is a priority for me. I am very aware of the great enthusiasm across the House and in communities to ensure that we do much more on school safety. That is why I remain committed to the project and to the further roll-out of the 20 mph speed limit across many more schools in this new financial year.