Abbey Community College

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 6 December 2021.

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Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 3:00, 6 December 2021

4. Mr Beggs asked the Minister of Education to outline the timescale to build a new school at Abbey Community College, Newtownabbey. (AQO 2855/17-22)

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

Abbey Community College was announced as a major capital works project in June 2014. A business case for the project was approved, with the preferred option being a new build site at Three Mile Water, Newtownabbey. The site is currently owned by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council. The estimated cost for the project is in the region of £34·3 million. That will provide accommodation and outside play facilities for the school, which has an approved enrolment number of 820 pupils.

RIBA stage 2 concept design approval was granted by the Department on 20 October 2021, and stage 3 detailed design is in progress. A planning proposal of application notice (PAN) has been lodged, and a planning pre-application community consultation event took place on 24 November 2021 by webinar. It is anticipated that a full planning application will be lodged early in 2022. It is anticipated that, subject to planning approval being granted and successful site acquisition, construction work on the new build site will commence in 2023. The estimated construction period is 24 months, with construction expected to be completed for the 2025-26 academic year. It is intended that, following the school’s decant to the new building, the existing school building will be demolished. Thereafter, the Education Authority will consider the future use of the site.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

It has been six years since the Abbey Community College opened its doors following the amalgamation of Monkstown Community School and Newtownabbey Community College. Does the Minister agree that amalgamations that follow the area plan, which is designed to improve educational outcomes, particularly for young people who have not been reaching their full attainment, should be better supported and encouraged and not experience such delays? Will she ensure that there will not be any further delays and that, in the future, Carrickfergus Academy will not take such a long time to get to that stage?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. I agree with him on how the process is. However, we are in a situation in which the amalgamation took place a considerable time ago — back in 2014 — and, as a consequence, it has taken a considerable time. I understand that challenges were presented in identifying a suitable site that provided sufficient space to accommodate the accommodation that was required plus outdoor play facilities. A number of site searches had to be conducted. It followed that a business case was required to test options, and it took several months to complete the business case.

I genuinely do not disagree with the Member when he talks about the time that is required, particularly for amalgamations. I have had those discussions with officials, because similar schools, not only in East Antrim but across Northern Ireland, have found themselves in the same position. Development proposals (DPs) are brought forward, a certain carrot is presented by the prospect of a new school, and it can take many years for that to come to fruition. Certainly, pupils who are in the school at the time of a DP being proposed are unlikely to see the benefits of the new school. I agree with the Member on that, and I think that the system needs to be refined in order to reflect that.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

I thank my colleague from East Antrim for raising those important issues about Abbey Community College and Carrickfergus Academy.

Minister, while there is a general and important welcome of the planning application for the new Abbey Community College, concern has been raised with me by constituents about the potential loss of a statutory Education Authority youth provision in the existing school building. There is one in the existing school building, but none is planned for the new school building —.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Will the Member come to his question?

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

Will the Minister outline the plans to deliver the statutory youth provision in the area that may be lost as a result of the demolition of the old school building?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. I assume that he refers to the relocation of the Bridge Youth Centre. I understand that the EA youth capital team is considering options for the relocation of that. As it currently operates in the Abbey Community College, a technical feasibility report to identify options and costs for the relocation of the club has been commenced by the EA, and, following its completion, a full business case also needs to be completed to consider and approve the preferred option and anticipated project costs.

For the Member's information, controlled youth capital is a separate funding stream from the controlled schools funding stream, but I understand that proposals for the youth centre at the Doagh Road site may have implications for other providers in the area, and that will also need to be taken into consideration.

Photo of Gerry Kelly Gerry Kelly Sinn Féin

The Minister will be aware that Coláiste Feirste in west Belfast is hugely oversubscribed. She is probably also aware, given that she mentioned sign-ups to enrolment, that there is a huge list to get into the school. In light of our statutory duty to encourage and facilitate Irish-medium education, will the Minister detail where we are with the development of an additional campus for Coláiste Feirste?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. I understand that there are pressures on the current site and that a capital works programme for additional classrooms is out for tender.

Although I do not have the detail, I understand that my officials have been working very closely for quite some time with the sectoral representatives to identify and examine potential sites and various options in north Belfast and the wider Newtownabbey area. I can assure the Member that work will continue to examine the feasibility of the sites that have been identified and that my officials will look at other options that are brought to their attention. I am very mindful of my duties, as are my officials.

Photo of George Robinson George Robinson DUP 3:15, 6 December 2021

After her recent visit to Limavady High School, does the Minister have any update on the school's new sports hall?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. Unfortunately, I do not have an update on that. I am happy to come back to the Member on that.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

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