During Education Question Time, Mr Beggs asked the Minister of Education to “outline the timescale to build a new school at Abbey Community College, Newtownabbey.”
Education Minister Michelle McIlveen responded; “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.”
Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs asked the following supplementary question; “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?”
Miss McIlveen: 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.”