Schools Estate: Major Capital Works Projects

Ministerial Statements – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:15 pm on 21st March 2022.

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Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 12:15 pm, 21st March 2022

The Speaker has received notice from the Minister of Education that she wishes to make a statement. Before I call the Minister, I remind Members that, in light of the social distancing that is being observed by parties, the Speaker's ruling that Members must be in the Chamber to hear a statement if they wish to ask a question has been relaxed. Members who are participating remotely must make sure that their name is on the speaking list if they wish to be called. Members who are in the Chamber should also do that, but they may also rise in their place or notify the Business Office or Speaker's Table directly.

I remind Members to be concise in asking their question. This is not an opportunity for debate but, rather, an opportunity to question the Minister on her statement, so please avoid overly long introductions, as they will not be allowed. I also remind Members that, in accordance with long-established procedure, points of order are not normally taken during a statement or the question period afterwards.

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

My Department is responsible for the planning, management and delivery of a fit-for-purpose schools estate that is both viable and sustainable in the context of the sustainable schools policy and the outworking of area planning. In that context, I will make a statement regarding my major capital investment plans for the schools estate.

I have visited many schools and witnessed at first hand not only the tremendous work that takes place in each and every school but the need for an appropriate level of investment in the fabric of our schools, whether that is a new building, the extension and refurbishment of existing school buildings or a programme of smaller-scale minor capital works. Such investment is essential in order to provide the first-class educational experience that our pupils, staff and wider school communities deserve and need to ensure that our young people can achieve their full potential.

As Minister of Education, it is my responsibility to ensure, within budget constraints, that that essential capital investment is facilitated as far as possible. My announcement today will permit a further programme of major works to advance in planning and support the delivery of modern, fit-for-purpose schools.

Since 2012, 75 projects have been announced to advance in planning under the major capital works programme. Each project represents an individual programme that requires the significant investment of time and money to plan and deliver. That includes time to identify and secure sites, progressing through the design and statutory planning stages, procurement, and, of course, ensuring best value for the public purse, within approved budget envelopes, throughout.

I am pleased to confirm that good progress is being made in the delivery of announced projects: 28 are now complete; seven are on site; five are in procurement; a further three will move to procurement in the coming weeks; 28 are in design; one has been temporarily suspended; and three have transferred to the Fresh Start Agreement programme, two of which are also complete. Anticipated spend on those projects across the next five years is estimated at £482 million. In addition, 76 projects are being progressed under the school enhancement programme, and a further 27 major capital projects are being progressed under the Fresh Start Agreement programme.

In this financial year, the gross capital budget that has been available to me amounts to some £200 million. My officials have planned and profiled capital spend through the year to ensure that we maximise the use of the funds available to me across each of the main capital programmes. Whilst my Department, like others, has no visibility of its future budget position, my delivery teams in the Department and its arm's-length bodies continue to work hard to progress projects across all the programmes in anticipation of similar levels of capital budget in the medium term.

Many of the already announced major works projects are progressing well. However, given the time required to develop individual projects from concept through to actual build, it is essential that sufficient projects advance to the point where they could effectively utilise capital funds that may be available in the future. To address the need for much greater capital investment in our schools, it is essential that I ensure that I have sufficient announced projects at an early development stage to ensure that available capital budget can be used to greatest effect. It is, therefore, essential that there is a steady pipeline of projects in design, which, in turn, will ensure the continued modernisation of the school estate in future years as those projects move to construction.

Like my predecessors, I take the selection of major works projects to advance in planning very seriously. It is critical that the process that is used to select projects is documented and followed. That was achieved in previous years through the development of a protocol for the selection of projects. In advance of the call for projects, the protocol for selection was reviewed and published on the Department's website. The 2021 call for projects opened on 23 December 2021, and, by the closing date of 14 January 2022, 34 school nominations had been received. Gateway checks were undertaken to ensure that schools that are considered for major capital investment are viable and sustainable, that there was certainty about the schools' future development and that the schools had not been announced for major capital funding under the school enhancement programme. Twenty-eight schools passed the gateway stage. Those schools progressed to the scoring stage and were ranked in merit order, based on the scoring system that is detailed in the published protocol.

In deciding the number of schools to advance in planning under the major capital programme, I considered the capital budget required to build those schools, the Department's current capital works programmes and the capacity of the resources required to develop and deliver the projects.

In that regard, I fully understand that there are many competing pressures for the capital budget available to me and, indeed, on the capacity to deliver. However, I believe that it is important to keep a focus on the future, and, through my announcement today, I hope to bring some much-needed good news, not just to schools and their wider school communities but to the contractors and professionals in the construction industry and the wider economy that, I expect, will benefit from this announcement.

Whilst construction spend on the projects that I will soon announce will not be realised until the end of this decade at the earliest, by making this announcement today, I will ensure a steady pipeline of projects in design, which will, in turn, ensure the continued modernisation of the schools’ estate into the future.

I will now turn to the list of major works projects that I wish to announce to advance in planning. Twenty-eight schools are to advance in planning under the major capital works programme. These schools will benefit from a capital investment in the region of £794 million, with deliverability subject to the level of capital resources available to the Department towards the end of this decade and into the next. In no priority order, the schools are as follows: Ballyclare High School; Ballyclare Secondary School; Ballymena Academy; Belfast High School; Cambridge House Grammar School, Ballymena; Carrickfergus Academy; Dean Maguirc College; Dromore High School; Edmund Rice College; Friends' School, Lisburn; Hunterhouse College; Killicomaine Junior High School; Larne Grammar; Larne High School; Lisnagarvey High School; Loreto College, Coleraine; Lumen Christi College, Londonderry; Malone Integrated College; Mercy College Belfast; Portadown College; Sperrin Integrated College; St Brigid's College, Londonderry; St Catherine's College, Armagh; St Ciaran's College, Ballygawley; St Joseph's College; St Louise's Comprehensive College; St Paul's High School, Newry; and St Pius X College, Magherafelt.

In making this announcement today, it is my intention that these projects will be taken through to construction. However, I should stress that authorisation to proceed to construction on any individual project will be based on the level of capital funding available at the point when a design is complete and all necessary approvals have been secured.

Finally, the projects that I have announced today to advance in planning will benefit over 25,000 pupils across the schools estate. These projects have been carefully selected in line with my Department’s strategy for capital investment, which continues to be shaped by the outworking of area planning and the delivery of a modern, fit-for-purpose estate of viable and sustainable schools.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

I thank the Minister for her statement. The announcement is, obviously, on the face of it, very positive news for 28 out of approximately 1,000 schools in Northern Ireland. However, I do have concerns, and I would like to ask the Education Minister why only a third of major school building works since 2012 have been completed a decade after the start of those works. Also, the total budget announced today appears to be in the region of £800 million for 28 schools, which I think is about £28 million a school on average. In the midst of a financial crisis for education, does the Education Minister actually have the budget to ensure that funding at that scale will be delivered? Will there be a call for special-school capital works as soon as possible?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Chair of the Committee for his questions, and I want to pay tribute to him. Obviously, this may be his last opportunity to engage with me, particularly in this forum, and I thank him for the work that he has done as Chair of the Education Committee. I wish him well in whatever the future brings for him and his family.

Today's announcement is a significant one, and I am very mindful that there are a number of projects still in the pipeline from previous announcements. As he will understand, they are progressing. There have been some issues quite recently with regard to budget pressures, particularly for those who made bids to take those schemes forward. Those projects have been stalled as a consequence of factors that are outwith my control.

There are pressures with all budgets going forward, but the Chair will recognise, from the statement and from the discussion that I had with him earlier, that I am very clear that there is a need for investment in our schools. It is incredibly important that schools be shovel-ready when capital funding becomes available. This is a good-news announcement. It will bring a smile to the face of a number of Members in the Chamber but also to that of those involved with schools and school communities.

The Chair asked about special schools. He will be aware that this was a post-primary-school call. The handbook for post-primary schools does not fit for special schools, which require a bespoke design to meet their particular needs. My Department is very cognisant of the challenges for special schools and of the need for capital investment in them. It is working at pace to bring forward suggestions on how to move forward with a call. I anticipate that, not in my time but in a future Minister's time, a call will be made for special schools.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 12:30 pm, 21st March 2022

Members, it is custom and practice that some latitude is shown to the Chair of the Committee. I urge Members, because of the interest that has been shown in the statement, to come to their question concisely.

Photo of Pat Sheehan Pat Sheehan Sinn Féin

On the cusp of an election, the Minister has announced a capital investment plan for 28 schools, at a cost of almost £800 million and with no delivery targets or time frames. Hundreds of schools across the North are in bad need of investment to bring them up to the standards that our young people deserve. Without a plan or time frame, however, many of those schools will be left in limbo.

Will the Minister provide clarity on when St Louise's in my constituency and its pupils can expect to see the benefit of this announcement?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. He is probably saying that I am electioneering. If I were electioneering, I might be announcing some good news for my constituency, but, sadly, that is not the case.

He will know, from our first engagement, during Question Time back in June, that I was quite taken aback at the condition of our school estate right across Northern Ireland and all sectors. I have made the call, to the Member and his colleagues in Finance, that we should be looking at investing heavily in our school estate and at ensuring that all children and the staff who work with them daily have access to a fit-for-purpose building. I am very positive about the announcement. It is a good-news story. We can see investment in the future, and it is a good sign from the Assembly that we value our schools, our pupils and our staff.

As they will with every other school, my officials will be working very closely with St Louise's. The schools will receive a letter today notifying them of the good news, if they have not already heard from some very excited Members. Work will start immediately on engagement, and we will then go through the various procurement processes for design staff and so on. As the Member will know, those processes do not happen overnight, and there could be a lag of between six and eight years, depending on circumstances, but it is important for those schools to be on the list today.

Photo of Harry Harvey Harry Harvey DUP

I welcome the Minister's statement. It is good to see her back with us. Will today's announcement of a large number of post-primary-school projects prevent future capital calls from being made for the next decade?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. Absolutely not, because the need for calls in the Department will continue, be they for minor works, school enhancement or major capital programmes. The Member may be aware that previous announcements of major capital works took place in 2013 and 2014, and we are seeing the outworkings of those announcements today. There will therefore always be a need, as we have identified, for investment in our schools. Today's announcement helps 28 of them on their way.

Photo of Justin McNulty Justin McNulty Social Democratic and Labour Party

This is a good news day. There is fantastic news for two wonderful schools in my constituency of Newry and Armagh: St Catherine's, Armagh and St Paul's High School, Bessbrook. My mum and dad were teachers at St Paul's High School in Bessbrook for almost a generation, so it is a very positive news story for them.

Teachers feel undervalued and overworked, Minister, especially in the context of the COVID pandemic that we have just come through. How will you reach out to them and help them to feel valued? How will you help them to get proper remuneration for their efforts in all that they have been through and for the influence that they have on our children's future? How will they be thanked and valued for that?

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The question goes beyond the statement, but the Minister may wish to comment.

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I recognise that, but I am glad that I brought a smile to the Member's face today. Those two schools, particularly St Paul's, are close to his heart.

I very much appreciate the work that teachers undertake. I am a former teacher, although that was nearly a lifetime ago. I very much value their work, along with that of our classroom assistants and all those who work in schools to make them safe spaces for young people and who make their best efforts to set them on the right pathways through life.

The Member referred to remuneration. He will know that I have been working alongside my colleagues in order to come to agreement, and that work will obviously go on, with engagement between the management side and the unions. I value the contribution that all staff make in schools.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

I thank the Minister for her remarks. I declare an interest: one of my children will be going either to Ballyclare High or to Ballyclare Secondary. I thank her very much for that.

With something in the region of £50 million being invested in Ballyclare, which is well deserved, one of the questions that we have to ask is about future ring-fencing to make sure that the funding goes through. Has the Minister had any commitments from other political parties to support the investment as we go through? If there is no great commitment to it, will we be looking to things such as financial transactions capital (FTC) or the reinvestment and reform initiative (RRI) to make sure that the funding is there for those vital projects to be done?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. He has shown commitment to a number of the schools on the list. The soundings that I get from all parties suggest that they are committed to investment. It is very much about whether we see the value of that money at a later date. A certain amount of pressure can be placed on the Secretary of State, particularly if we are looking for Levelling Up funding. It is incumbent on the NIO to understand the value of all our schools and all the sectors in our education system. Today's announcement should go some way to doing that. Before I leave office, I will make contact where I can in order to ensure that any available capital is directed to our schools and school infrastructure.

Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin

I welcome the inclusion of Dean Maguirc College in Carrickmore in the Minister's list of major capital works. I declare an interest as a parent and as a former pupil, many years ago.

The Minister will be aware from her visit to Dean Maguirc in December that the college badly needs substantial investment and upgraded facilities to cater for the ever-surging demand for places. The burning questions are these: is there any indication of how much of the £794 million might be earmarked for the school, and is there any indicative timing for that?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. I had the pleasure of a really good visit just before Christmas to Dean Maguirc, where I was able to meet a number of principals from primary schools as well. I am cognisant of the needs of Dean Maguirc, which were drawn to my attention on that visit. My understanding is that there is probably somewhere in the region of £14 million for Dean Maguirc, although that is an incredibly early indication. It is not a precise figure at this point, because we will have to do a considerable amount of work to bring together a business case on the basis of the need of the school.

Again, as with other schools, departmental officials will work closely with any teams that are appointed and with the school to ensure that it gets the accommodation that it needs.

Photo of Jonathan Buckley Jonathan Buckley DUP

Today is a good day for education and a great day for education in Upper Bann. I thank the Minister for not only listening but delivering on the inclusion in the major works programme of Portadown College and Killicomaine Junior High School, both of which are on today's list. Some £25 million will go to Portadown College and £21 million to Killicomaine. That will go a serious way to help education.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Can we have a question?

Photo of Jonathan Buckley Jonathan Buckley DUP

As the Minister knows, there have been many false dawns. Those schools are in urgent need of rebuilds and major works. How long will it be before construction work commences for projects such as Portadown College and Killicomaine Junior High School?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. I had the pleasure of visiting both schools. I had a particularly good visit to Portadown College along with the Member, and he has worked hard, alongside the principal and the board of governors, to promote the case for the school.

As with other schools, there is a lead-in time for all the projects. Some will depend on sites being allocated or searched for. Some are in a much more beneficial position than others. As the Member will be aware from other school projects, it is somewhere in the region of six to eight years before projects come to fruition. They are, obviously, very much dependent on the budget. However, this is the first step in the right direction for both the schools that he mentioned.

Photo of Aisling Reilly Aisling Reilly Sinn Féin

Despite its not meeting the sustainable enrolment criteria at the gateway stage, the Minister could have used her statutory duty to ensure that Gaelcholáiste Dhoire was placed in the capital announcement plan. Why has the Minister ignored her statutory duty to Irish-medium education and the needs of the Irish-medium sector?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for her question. Today is a good news day for schools across Northern Ireland. I have not ignored my statutory duty to any school or sector.

I had a meeting before this with the Chair and Deputy Chair of the Committee, and we spoke at length. I know about the disappointment that the Irish-medium school in Dungiven did not make the list, but that was not because of anything that I did to prevent that. The enrolment for the school is 272 pupils, and the projected enrolment is 389, which falls well below the sustainability threshold and that for capital viability. I appreciate that that is disappointing to the Member and the school.

A number of schemes that will be completed in 2024-25 are being undertaken in the school, and I understand that, once that work is completed, there will be a 28-class school. Considerable investment is going on. While I appreciate that the school has not met the list today, that does not mean that the school is being ignored. I understand from speaking to my officials that they have had a considerable number of meetings with the school and that the school understands the situation that it finds itself in.

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

I commend the Education Minister for the biggest announcement of major capital projects in well over 20 years, led by the Democratic Unionist Party. I am delighted in particular at the announcement of three new builds in Lagan Valley: Dromore High School, Friends' School Lisburn and Lisnagarvey High School. I pay tribute to Mr McConaghy and his predecessor Mr Wilkinson, Mr Moore at Friends' and Mr Sheerin at Lisnagarvey. This is a red-letter day for the children of my constituency.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Can we have a question, please?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

Today's announcement will benefit 2,500 children with £73 million of investment. Will the Minister outline how the projects will be prioritised? Dromore High School has a site secured and is at a very advanced stage. When can we see shovels going into the ground? I commend the Minister again for her excellent work in leading the Department.

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member very much for his praise. He may not be so keen on my answer. While schools were prioritised on a list from 1 to 28, once the announcement is made, they are all equal, and it will very much depend on the circumstances in which they find themselves. I appreciate, however, that Dromore High School is in a good position in that it has already identified and purchased a site. I would like to think that it could move forward at pace.

As with all the schools announced today, however, I am not in a position to give them a date for sod cutting. There is something to be celebrated for all the schools announced today, which is that they are on the list and that the projects will move forward.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party 12:45 pm, 21st March 2022

I thank the Minister for the statement, which contains a lot of good news for a lot of schools. I am particularly pleased to see schools from my constituency — St Brigid's College and Lumen Christi College — on the approved list. I am a bit disappointed, however, not to see St Joseph's Boys' School on the list. I have been in touch with the Minister about that and appreciate that her time has been short. Will she outline what steps a school that is not on the list must take or what hoops it must jump through to get on the list for improvements and vital investment, particularly with regard to their antiquated sports facilities?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. St Joseph's Boys' School was, unfortunately, not put forward for the list. Had it been, it may have just crept in. I have made comments about underinvestment across the school estate generally on a number of occasions. I have also visited schools with inadequate sports facilities. The Member will be aware of projects, particularly those involving local communities, councils and Sport NI, from which schools have been able to benefit.

While this announcement is about major capital projects, other announcements may come with a future Executive and Minister. Priorities may also change, depending on the available budget. As the Member knows, the likes of minor works are, at present, very much around the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and health and safety, but protocols around that may change with a future budget.

Photo of Doug Beattie Doug Beattie UUP

Thank you for the statement, Minister; it is a genuinely good statement. There are no smiling faces at the Lurgan campus of Craigavon Senior High School, however, where some of the most vulnerable children in Upper Bann still eat their lunches — packed meals — between parked cars and where there are still safeguarding issues. You said that you would make a decision on the future of those children as early as possible, but, in the last week of the mandate, you still have not done so. Will you commit to telling the community in Lurgan what the decision on the Lurgan campus of Craigavon Senior High School will be? Will pupils be bussed to Portadown purely because they were not given a grammar school education?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

A decision regarding the Lurgan campus will be made and announced this week. There is, however, good news for the Member's constituency, and I would like to think that he recognises that.

Photo of Linda Dillon Linda Dillon Sinn Féin

I am delighted for all the schools that are getting investment; there is no doubt that there is underinvestment in many of our schools. Your predecessor visited St Joseph's Primary School in Galbally. It had the foresight to amalgamate 50 years ago, and its numbers increase year-on-year. It is well oversubscribed and struggling for space. It also has serious health and safety issues — NICCY has reported on the matter — so can the Minister explain why St Joseph's Primary School in Galbally is not on the list?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for her question. For this call, the list was put together for post-primary schools rather than primary schools. I would like to think that a future Education Minister will take the opportunity to bring forward a call for primary schools. The Member may understand that, when I looked at the list of school projects going through for design and procurement, there were not as many post-primary schools on the list, so I felt that it was necessary to bring forward a list to address that. I am hopeful that a future Executive and Education Minister will look to primary schools for the next call.

Photo of David Hilditch David Hilditch DUP

I certainly welcome the statement. I do not want to dilute Mr Givan's joy, but, as you know, East Antrim has four schools on the list compared with his three. It is certainly a good day for the education sector in my constituency of East Antrim in general and in Carrickfergus in particular. Mr Deputy Speaker, you know the problems that Carrickfergus Academy has had with having to work over two separate sites for several years after the merger, so its inclusion is very welcome indeed. Having written, questioned, lobbied and organised ministerial visits, I believe that today is a day of welcome education news.

Minister, has the budget of £794 million, or any part of it, been allocated to any of those projects?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. Obviously, the capital budget is not known beyond March 2022. I am content, however, to announce these projects on the assumption that the Department's allocation will be made in due course and will remain at a broadly similar level to what it has been in previous years. Given the lead-in time to construction, it is important that there is a continual flow of projects into the programme in order to utilise capital funds as they become available.

The two primary stages in the completion of a major capital project are the development and design phase and then the construction phase. All projects that have been announced today are to advance in planning. However, progression to construction will very much depend on the available budget. Anything that is announced will start the process, and considerable money will then be spent throughout the design and development stage. There will be a drip feed of budget into those projects over forthcoming years.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

Thank you, Minister, for your statement. I am absolutely delighted to see Hunterhouse College, Malone Integrated College and St Joseph's College on the list. I pay tribute not just to your departmental officials but to the leadership in those three schools. I know that they have been lobbying for many years.

Minister, you will be aware that there is huge pressure on post-primary places in South Belfast. Your statement referred to area planning. Given that many of these projects will take many years to reach completion, how will the Department cope with increased demand, year-on-year, for places in those schools and others around them?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for her question. Recently, I went to St Joseph's College to see the conditions there and the incredible work that is being undertaken by the principal and staff. I have a little bit of a vested interest in Hunterhouse College in that I went to Ashleigh House School, which was one of its precursors. Hunterhouse has waited 35 years for investment since the amalgamation back in 1987.

I appreciate that there are pressures on schools in South Belfast. The Member will be aware that quite a piece of work is being undertaken in the area-planning process. I am hopeful that some of it — how numbers will be allocated and so on — will come to fruition in the not-too-distant future.

Photo of Nicola Brogan Nicola Brogan Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for her statement. I am really glad that Dean Maguirc College has been included in the announcement. Minister, you will be aware that another key project in West Tyrone is the Strule Shared Education Campus in Omagh, which I have been campaigning for during your tenure. Can you update the House on the progress of the campus, please?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for her question. Work continues with the Strule campus. With the bringing together of six schools, over 4,000 pupils will be able to benefit from that flagship project. We remain committed to the project. My understanding is that things are going to plan in the current programme timetable. Assuming that there is the successful appointment of a main works contractor following the pre-construction design period, campus construction is due to begin on-site in spring 2023. It is currently planned to complete in early 2026, with the potential partial opening of some facilities in the academic year 2025-26 and the full campus open for September 2026.

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP

Like others, I am very pleased with the announcement, Minister. Two things strike me about it. First of all, it includes two schools in my constituency, Ballyclare Secondary School and Ballyclare High School. Secondly, in response to another Member, you talked about sustainability. To be included in the announcement, a school has to be a sustainable school. It is testament to those schools' sustainability that they made it on to the list.

Minister, you have been asked a number of times, in different ways, about how and when these programmes will be advanced. Have you any indication that any of them are ready to move? Indeed, if you are struggling for suggestions, may I suggest that you take them in alphabetical order?

[Laughter.]

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. I had the pleasure of visiting Ballyclare Secondary School and Ballyclare High School in the not-too-distant past, and their need was demonstrated on those visits. I was very taken aback at the conditions in which pupils and staff were working in both schools. I very much look forward to the day when they eventually open to pupils after the work. I reiterate the point that I have made to so many Members today that this is a long process, and today is just day 1.

Photo of Ciara Ferguson Ciara Ferguson Sinn Féin

First and foremost, the announcement of investment for Lumen Christi and St Brigid's College is great news today, particularly for those in the Foyle constituency. I am sure that the pupils, families, schools and boards of governors will be delighted about that news and that they are listening in today. Will you provide an indication of the budget that will be directed towards Lumen Christi and St Brigid's College?

Secondly, you said that all schools will be on an equal footing now. What departmental resources have been committed to assisting the progress of those projects from design to planning?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for her questions. The costs are only indicative because they are based on today's prices, there is no VAT included and there are site costs and everything else to consider, but, as a broad estimate, St Brigid's College will get £22·7 million and Lumen Christi College will get £26·5 million.

I am very mindful that there are pressures in the Department where resource and manpower in particular are concerned, so those will need to be looked at. However, alongside that, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) and the Education Authority (EA) will be involved, and we will go out to look for those who will be keen to be involved in the development and design of the projects, so experts will be brought on board in order to make sure that the schemes are brought forward.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

The built form can transform teaching and learning, and the Minister is not only listening to but delivering for North Antrim and Ballymena in particular, with Ballymena Academy and Cambridge House school being on that list. What must the schools do now in the process?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. A letter will go out to each of the schools today to inform them, if they do not already know, of their success in being on the list. One of the schools is a voluntary grammar, but my Department, along with EA, will work very closely with the board of governors of that school to take it through to the next stage. A very intense piece of work will follow this announcement.

Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP

I welcome the news today. It is especially good to see St Ciaran's in Ballygawley on the list. I do not see Enniskillen Royal Grammar School on the list. Will you give me an update on the progress with that, please?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for her question. Unfortunately, I do not have information on that project at hand today, but I am happy to come back to the Member on it.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

This is such an exciting day today, as the Minister has brought such good news to the House of an £800 million investment over 10 years into the future of our children. I am delighted that she has announced three new schools for South Belfast: Hunterhouse, St Joseph's and Malone college. My sisters went to Hunterhouse and my daughter went to Malone college, so I have an interest in both of them. I also have an interest in Dromore High School because my son went there, and I started working with Mr Wilkinson 20 years ago. What is the spend for those three South Belfast schools? Will you tell us the number of children who are in the development plan for the schools so that we know the Department's intentions for this piece of work?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. Malone Integrated College has an approved enrolment of 800 pupils, with an estimated construction cost of £25·3 million; St Joseph's has an approved enrolment of 760, with an estimated construction cost of £24 million; and Hunterhouse College in Belfast has an approved enrolment of 710, with an estimated cost of £22·4 million. The Member is also interested in Dromore High School and has spoken to me about it on many occasions, so I can tell him that its estimated construction cost is somewhere in the region of £26·8 million.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party 1:00 pm, 21st March 2022

First of all, I am in the unusual position of being able to say that I fully agree with my constituency colleague from South Belfast: it is great to see Hunterhouse College, Malone Integrated College and St Joseph's —

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

In the final week of the mandate, we are having some very unfortunate hectoring from the Member for North Antrim. It is unusual for him to be so uncharitable.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Order. Would the Member come to a question, please?

[Laughter.]

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am trying to lighten the mood, Mr Deputy Speaker, in the final week of our mandate. I am delighted that three schools in South Belfast have been put forward. St Joseph's College, in particular, has been waiting a very long time for a new building. It is a brilliant school on the Ravenhill Road, and Malone Integrated College and Hunterhouse College are also great schools.

Minister, given that we do not have a sitting Executive and may not have one immediately after the election, are you certain that that will not in any way disrupt the capital projects being signed off and delivered?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. He may have missed the statement. Obviously, the projects will take some time to come to fruition, but, as of today, work will be done alongside the schools. An intensive piece of work will be required to get a business plan in place and to deliver design and procurement, so we are probably talking about a lead-in time of between six and eight years. Today is really the first day, but it is vital that we make this announcement to ensure that there is a pipeline of schools coming through so that they are ready to go whenever capital is available.

I believe that the schools will appreciate that things will not happen overnight, so they will not be expecting a new school this time next year. They understand that the process is lengthy but that this is an important day. They are now on the list and are working towards that.

Photo of Andrew Muir Andrew Muir Alliance

I thank the Minister for her statement on capital projects. On 20 December last year, I wrote to the Minister about the restrictions on the borrowing powers of Sullivan Upper School, Holywood, and other similar voluntary grammar and grant-maintained integrated schools in Northern Ireland, and the impact that that will have on their delivery of major capital projects. When can I expect a reply to that letter?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. I was not aware that you had not received a response to the letter, but the issue you raise is something that we are very cognisant of and creates massive pressures and challenges for those schools. Obviously, there is an impact on my Department as well due to the manner in which the process has been designed. I am happy to chase that up: I was not aware that you had not received a response.

Photo of John Stewart John Stewart UUP

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thought that you had forgotten about me, but I am sure you will join me in welcoming the news for Belfast High School, Carrickfergus Academy, Larne Grammar School and Larne High School and in imploring the Minister and the Department to do all that they can to see those projects coming to fruition as quickly as possible.

Minister, what changes do you want to see to ensure that those projects are not plagued by the same delays experienced by Islandmagee Primary School in my constituency, which received a similar announcement over 10 years ago and still does not have the first sod dug?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. Obviously, there have been delays in recent years for a number of projects, which is regrettable. I understand that the Department has reviewed its governance procedures at programme and project levels to ensure that major capital projects are delivered much more effectively and efficiently. I would like to think that lessons have been learned and that, particularly given the size and scale of the announcement that we are making today, all efforts will be made to ensure that delivery is as seamless as it can be.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

The statement refers to the fact that the applicant schools were ranked in merit order. Is that at all reflected in how we go forward or is there no prioritisation of projects? Will the Minister give me an update on where we are with Dunclug College and Cullybackey College? Which project was referred to in the statement as being suspended?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I will try to remember all those questions. There is no priority once the announcement has been made because each school will be at a different stage. As I indicated, the likes of Dromore High School already have a site identified and purchased, whereas other schools will have to look at an existing site or look into other sites, which, in itself, will create problems for them.

I was at Dunclug College quite recently. There has been a delay there as a consequence of the contractor moving away from the project. The indication that I got is that there is likely to be a delay of around 12 months. I can get the Member precise updates on Dunclug College and Cullybackey College.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Those are all the questions to the Minister on her statement. I —

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. DUP Members seem to have access to information about specific amounts of money that have been allocated to each school. If I am not wrong, that information is not yet publicly accessible. Will you ensure that that information is made public as soon as possible?

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member has made a valid point, which is now on the record. In the future, I hope that that will be addressed appropriately.

I ask Members to take their ease for a few moments.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McGlone] in the Chair)