€35.5m unspent as building regulations delay school projects

New building regulations and local planning appeals have delayed dozens of major school building projects this year.

The issues were a factor in €35.5m of Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan’s schools capital budget going unspent this year. However, she told TDs on Wednesday that the funding has already been transferred to ongoing works at third-level colleges.

The Department of Education said several large-scale school building projects experienced delays on the introduction of new Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014, and as a result of third-party planning appeals.

“Some of these projects are now under construction while the remainder are expected to advance to site in 2015,” a spokesperson said.

Late last year, 70 projects were cleared to move to construction stage in 2014, with work already under way on almost 100 others at the beginning of the year.

The building regulations that came into force in March meant tender documents had to be significantly revised, adding two to three months to the time it takes projects to move to construction stage. Of 14 large-scale projects appealed to An Bord Pleanála, three were refused planning, three are still awaiting decisions, three more have been approved and are under construction, and five have cleared the planning process and are due on site in 2015.

Most of the €35.5m saved has been allocated to Dublin Institute of Technology’s new Grangegorman campus, where work is progressing more quickly than expected. Some has been diverted to ongoing works at St Patrick’s College in Dublin.

The transfers were met with disappointment by several TDs, who felt it would have been better spent on school projects waiting years for progress. Oireachtas select education committee chair Joanna Tuffy said that two schools in her Dublin Mid-West constituency are in the current five-year programme, but still awaiting the go-ahead.

“There are 400 pupils in prefabs in each. We have a jobs initiative and all these shovel-ready projects, and yet this money isn’t being spent,” she told the minister.

The minister said the unspent money was part of an overall five-year funding package for large-scale projects, and would be available to allow held-up projects to progress next year anyway. She said any school projects which have been waiting long periods would be looked at for the next five-year building programme, and the replacement of prefabs would continue.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue said that the movement of funding would mean no summer works scheme allocation next year.

As reported by the Irish Examiner recently, the minister has not included funding for the programme in next year’s capital budget, although projects granted support for upgrade works as part of a €70m scheme this year will get funding to complete them in 2015.

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