Seanad Éireann - Volume 176 - 01 April, 2004

Schools Building Projects.

  Ms Tuffy: I ask the Minister for Education and Science to consider fast tracking the opening of the Adamstown secondary school to cater for the growing number of children in Lucan primary schools.

The land in question was rezoned in 1998 and has not yet been built on. When the local authority drew up the first strategic development zone plan for the area it set aside a site for a secondary school. More than that, there is a mandatory requirement that a permanent school building be put in place at a specified stage of the plan. If the builder does not fulfil this and other requirements he cannot move to the next stage of development. This requirement was an important step in planning and is an example for future development in other areas.

When councillors were drafting the plan we were conscious of the problem of school places in Lucan and we felt the Adamstown secondary school could cater for the needs of the current school age population of Lucan as well as the future requirements of Adamstown itself. That was the intention of the council when the plan was drawn up.

There has been a shortage of primary school places in the area and the Government has acted on this shortage. However, a bottleneck has now developed at the secondary school stage. Primary school principals in the Lucan area have a growing number of students who are coming to the end of their primary school careers and face the difficulty of finding secondary school places. Lucan Community College operates a lottery for places and other local schools, including St. Kevin’s Community College which is just outside the Lucan area, are similarly full to capacity.

Some local politicians have proposed that another school site should be identified. That is not what is required. Action must be taken on the Adamstown secondary school. The Government should take the initiative on this matter and not leave it to parents, who very often are left to push these issues. A committee is being set up by parents with children in the primary schools to deal with the issue of secondary school places. They are concerned that their children might not be able to find a place in the local secondary school.

[148]Rather than waiting until this issue reaches crisis point, the Government should start planning now for the secondary school in Adamstown. I am sure the developers and the council will work with the Government, the Minister and the Department in that regard. I have received replies from the Minister on this issue, which suggest that the Department thinks a site will be set aside. However, more will be done for the Department. The developers will build a school for it under the terms of the plan. This is an opportunity for the Government to act rather than waiting until there is a crisis and then responding by announcing in its construction programme for a certain year that it will do a number of things. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

  Mr. M. McDowell: I thank the Senator for providing me with the opportunity to outline to the House the position relating to post-primary provision in the Lucan area. At the outset it must be made clear that the educational infrastructural needs of the Adamstown strategic development zone, as it develops over time, are separate and distinct from those of the Lucan area and cannot alleviate any current difficulties that may exist in Lucan. The Senator did not suggest they could do that. It may be useful to expound on this statement for the House.

The Planning and Development Act 2000 introduced strategic development zones to facilitate specified development of economic or social importance to the State. The aim of strategic development zones is to create sustainable communities rather than just housing developments. The schemes adopt a holistic approach to development and mixing land usages to ultimately provide amenities, facilities, services and employment and to enable the community to work, shop and recreate locally.

Under the Act, the Government designated 223.5 hectares or between 400 and 500 acres of land at Adamstown to the south west of Lucan as a site for a strategic development zone for residential development. There is a minimum of 8,250 dwelling units and a maximum of 10,150 units permissible in the Adamstown zone. The population of the area is expected to be approximately 26,000. It is expected that this population will yield a demand for approximately 3,000 primary pupil places alone. At post-primary level, the demand is likely to be for a 1,000 pupil place school.

All development within the zone is subject to a schedule of phasing. The purpose of the phasing is to ensure that infrastructure, services, facilities and amenities are provided simultaneously with residential development. To ensure flexibility, the proposed phasing schedule is sequential rather than time specific. There are 13 sequential phases [149]with the first phase being split into two phases and all but the last comprising 800 dwelling units. A post-primary school is required to be delivered as part of phase four of the plan.

The zone plan, as prepared by South Dublin County Council and endorsed by An Bord Pleanála, reserves a total of three separate sites for educational provision. Two separate primary sites, each of 1.2 hectares, are designated and a further primary school is envisaged to be part of a multi-school campus development on a four hectare site. The plan envisages that each of the 1.2 hectare sites can accommodate a school of up to 32 classrooms. On the four hectare site it is envisaged that the site can accommodate a post-primary school of 1,000 students alongside a primary school of 32 classrooms. It is clear from the projected school going population of the zone and from the general principle of sustainability underlying these zones that the planned educational infrastructure for the area is not intended to accommodate pupils from outside the defined zone area.

It is widely acknowledged that Lucan is among one of the most rapidly developing areas in the country. At the 2002 census of population, the population in Lucan Esker had increased by 192% to reach a figure of 21,785. As a result of this huge growth in population, there have been some difficulties in providing school places. Such difficulties have been largely addressed by the Department of Education and Science, which worked with the school authorities in the Lucan area, and by a programme of substantial capital investment in the educational infrastructure of Lucan. Within the past five years a total of €19 million has been invested in providing and upgrading educational provision in Lucan, of which €12 million has been provided at primary level and €7 million at post-primary level. This expansion is set to continue with three new schools due to commence construction this year — two at primary level and one at post-primary level.

As regards post-primary provision specifically, there are four post-primary providers operating in the Lucan area. In total the four schools have a current enrolment of 2,420. Three of the four schools will receive major capital investment this year to significantly boost capacity. Capacity at one of the schools will be increased by 300 pupil places with the completion of a major extension project. A further extension project at a second school will also be completed this year, which will provide an overall capacity of 725 pupil places. This is deemed sufficient to meet demand from pupils in its catchment area. In addition, a project to provide a new building for a developing all-Irish college will proceed to tender and construction later this year. The new building will comprise 4,565 sq. m. It will cater for 600 pupils, [150]which is 400 additional places relative to existing capacity.

A fourth school in the area appears to be at capacity with an enrolment of 827 pupils. While this is a popular school of choice, as the figures demonstrate, there is adequate capacity in the area to cater for overall demand, which is the primary concern of the Department of Education and Science. In addition, four schools in the adjoining areas to Lucan, namely, Palmerstown, Leixlip and Clondalkin have experienced a significant decline in pupil numbers over the past five years. The accommodation, freed up by this decline provides an option in terms of facilitating any further growth in the Lucan area.

On foot of an unprecedented level of recent and continuing investment in schools in the Lucan area, pupil places will be increased by 25% over a period of five to six years. That demonstrates that the Department is tackling the issue of school provision in Lucan in a sustained and comprehensive manner and it will continue to do so into the future.

  Ms Tuffy: I am unhappy with the response from the Minister for Education and Science. It is totally at odds with the intentions of the framers and adopters of the Adamstown strategic development zone plan who intended that the school would cater for the present population of Lucan and then for the people from Adamstown as it developed. It is typical of the Department of Education and Science to be bureaucratic about everything. It shows its inability to think outside certain parameters.

  Mr. M. McDowell: I am not in a position to respond, except to deny that the Department of Education and Science is bureaucratic. It seems from the figures I have imparted to the Senator during this debate that the contrary is the case. The Department is well aware of the problems and is providing for them in a sustained way. However, it cannot throw up buildings and create schools without looking to the long-term interests of the area. As the Senator is aware, it appears that the secondary schools in three of the adjoining areas have falling attendance numbers. When one is dealing with institutions which are up and running, one must bear in mind that resources are limited and that we must cut our cloth in accordance with available resources.