By Niall Murray, Education Correspondent
COUNCILS are avoiding their responsibilities by not requiring developers of large housing schemes to provide sites for schools, Education Minister Mary Hanafin said yesterday.
She has already raised the issue with Environment Minister Dick Roche with a view to addressing the problem which has led to families in new suburbs and estates having difficulty accessing local schools.
Both ministers’ officials are working on a report which could recommend new planning guidelines or regulations on the issue of educational provision.
Under recently-agreed arrangements, councils notify the Department of Education of any major residential planning applications. But they are still under no obligation to make conditions on developers to provide school sites, except on much larger ‘new town’ developments such as Adamstown in Dublin.
Ms Hanafin told the Dáil that the problems of school capacity shortages arising in expanding urban areas were avoidable.
"I take issue with councils which do not take seriously their responsibilities for the provision of extra facilities or schools, instead granting planning permission for large numbers of houses without regard for the knock-on effects on education provision," she said.
The minister was responding to a question from Green Party leader Trevor Sargent on the need for new residential areas to have local school capacity and whether she would work with local authorities to arrange for the simultaneous provision of housing and educational facilities.
But while she praised the efforts of Fingal County Council, to which Mr Sargent specifically alluded, the minister had reservations about other planning authorities.
"County and urban councils must have regard for the types of planning permissions they grant, the zoning they undertake and the obligations they put on developers," she said.
Ms Hanafin said she did not understand why planning permission could be given for 50 houses without telling the builder to construct an additional classroom for the local school or, in the case of 150 houses, to build a new school.
"If everybody shouldered their responsibilities, the problem of long-term education provision could be quickly solved," she said.
The Department of Education has introduced a new school planning model under which future school needs are being set out, based on local demands and projected population changes. On a pilot basis, plans have already been published for the M4/N4 area, Mountmellick and Mountrath in Co Laois and Newport/Westport in Co Mayo.