State squanders tens of millions on sites for schools it never built
Published 20/12/2010 | 05:00
THE State spent tens of millions of euros buying sites for new schools at the height of the boom which have never been built.
Schools on 35 sites, costing more than €42m, are still only on the design and planning stages -- with no progress at all on others.
This is despite 1,200 schools across the State looking for new buildings or extensions.
And the value of some of the sites has sharply fallen -- one 20-acre site in Laytown cost almost €9m in 2007, and is now worth less than half that.
Another in Glasthule in Dublin cost €7m and is likely to be worth just €4m today.
Some of the sites were bought as far back as 1978, but most were bought in the mid-2000s when land prices were at their highest.
The Irish Independent can today reveal:
- There are no plans to develop nine of the 35 sites, and one is being leased to the GAA.
- Plans are being drawn up for schools on eight sites.
- Planning permission has been granted, or will be sought, for another four schools.
- Some 11 schools are either under construction, or will be built by the private sector in the coming years.
The lack of progress comes despite record spending on new schools during the Celtic Tiger boom. In 2009, some €656m was allocated for school buildings, but was not all spent.
Earlier this month, Tanaiste and Education Minister Mary Coughlan admitted that €62m of this year's allocation would not be spent on new buildings.
Fine Gael education spokes-man Fergus O'Dowd said the fact that sites were lying idle when schools needed new buildings was "incredible".
"We now have sites bought at the top of the boom and they can't build schools on them when construction costs were never lower," he said.
"The minister is not able to spend her capital budget this year, the second year in a row this has happened.
"It's incredible this work can't be done. Hundreds of skilled tradesmen could have been employed."
The Department of Education said that sites were bought on the basis of need at the time.
On December 1 last, Ms Coughlan told the Dail Education Committee there were problems spending the school building budget because of "difficulties within the construction industry" linked with low tender prices, which were leading to delays.
"Second, there are increasing examples of contractors, sub-contractors and other professionals associated with school building projects going out of business while they are engaged on school projects," she said.
When asked to give examples where contractors had gone out of business, the department told the Irish Independent: "It is not possible to quantify how many have gone out of business.
"However, it can be confirmed by recent media announcements in relation to contractors and architectural practices that this is now increasingly a common occurrence."
Teachers' unions said the lack of progress on school sites was "inexplicable".
"There needs to be major reform of the system, so schools are built as soon as possible after sites are acquired," the INTO said.
"It is inexcusable that children and teachers are enduring sub-standard schools while sites are available for modern buildings. This is inexplicable."
TUG general secretary Peter MacMenamin said the situation was a "further indictment of flawed policy and planning".