Monday, August 07, 2006

 

Laytown School

I am devoting this blog to the situation in relation to the provision of a new school at Laytown. The posting will by necessity be lengthy, since I want to provide as much background information as possible. If you want to make a suggestion or comment on this post then please do so.

What's the issue here?

The current schools in Laytown are at capacity, with virtually no further room for expansion. A site for a new school has been identified and zoned for a school premises, but the site has not yet been released by the landowners. From September, there are scores of children looking for school places in the area and it is not clear where they are going to get places.

Background to the issue.....

The Laytown and Bettystown area has grown significantly over the last 15 years. At the time of the drafting of the last local area plan, in 2000, it was recognised that a new school would be needed to cater for the additional families and young children coming into the area. As a result, a site was identified and the then councillors voted to zone a site for a school. This site is beside the existing parochial hall in Laytown.

Now it's one thing to zone a site. That just means that the land has been earmarked for school premises, rather than, say housing. In order for the school to become a reality the owners would have to agree and either sell or transfer ownership of the land to the school authorities. However, since then the owners of the land decided neither to sell nor transfer the land. As a result, when the plan came up for review in 2005, five years later, the planners decided to offer a carrot to the owners of the site: transfer the proposed school site and the council will rezone 25 acres of their land alongside the site for additional
housing.

I was elected in 2004 and so I was keenly involved in trying to make the school site a reality. I was annoyed and appalled that the planning system in Ireland meant that in effect we had to zone land for another 300 houses just to get a school site released, but that is the law and regime we are currently operating under and until there is a change in national legislation that's what we have to work with. I went along with the decision to rezone 25 acres, hoping that this would be sufficient for the owners to release the school site.

The owners had put in a submission of their own for consideration (as did many others). They wanted 35 acres zoned residential, not 25. Apologies if I have made a mistake with these numbers - I am away from my desk so I can't be sure of the exact number, but basically they wanted more land zoned for houses than the planners and the local councillors felt was necessary.

The plan was adopted in November of 2005.

The adopted plan can be seen at:

http://www.meath.ie/planning/EM_Adopted_WWW/map2-laytown.pdf

As the plan states: NOT ONE HOUSE CAN BE BUILT UNTIL THE SCHOOL SITE IS TRANSFERRED.

Since then there were a number of meetings and conversations between the planners, the councillors and the owners of the land, in an effort to reach a satisfactory solution for all, but with the ultimate goal of getting the site for the school. Earlier this year the owners decided to sell off the site. That is their constitutional and democratic right and there's nothing the council can do about it.

The site was put up for auction in the early summer. It was sold for a price rumoured to be several million euro.

A key thing to remember is that the zoning still applies to this land. So, too does the stipulation that not one house can be built until the school site is transferred.

The new owner seems to be interested in building houses as soon as possible. He held a meeting with the Council Planners to talk about this about a month ago. It was at this meeting that the new owner and the council realised that part of the land zoned for the school had been retained by the original owner. The council were a bit bemused, to say the least. Their position at the meeting was that the new owner was unable to deliver the school site in its entirety since a significant piece of the land jigsaw necessary for the school was missing and therefore the situation was at an impasse.

Since the meeting I have spoken to both the old and new landowners. From what they have told me I would be hopeful that an agreement can be reached which will enable the school land to be released to the school authorities.

I cannot predict when this will happen, as the timing is outside my control. What I have said is that I am happy to liaise and work with all parties to ensure this happens sooner rather than later. I have also said that if an agreement cannot be reached within a reasonable period of time then we will have to look at options such as a Compulsory Purchase Order of the proposed site and/or Dezoning. Neither option is likely to be fast or cheap, but a community and its children cannot be the used as pawns in a long running saga. There is a general election next year and laws can be changed and moulded for the benefit of the community at large. Over the coming months I intend to raise this issue with my party's TDs in Dail Eireann, asking them for advice on how we could prepare legislation on how to release much needed land for community facilities. At any rate, I hope the specific issue of Laytown school site will be sorted out way before them.

In the meantime, the existing school authorities have lodged an application for temporary classrooms and I understand that the planners have asked for further information on this application. The issue will be up to the planners (not the Councillors) and they will make their decision imminently.

In response to queries from some parents, I have been quoted as saying that some, (not all!) parents may wish to send their children to schools outside the immediate Laytown area. For clarification, I am not calling for busloads of children to be sent out of Laytown in the morning, on buses that should have been scrapped long ago. I am saying that some parents may wish to send their child to one of the rural schools within a ten minute drive of Laytown. There are a number of rural schools which may have space for a few extra children. Interested parents may wish to drive their children themselves or car pool. Whilst this may not suit everyone, and certainly is not a sustainable, long-term solution, it might suit some parents in the short term. It is just a suggestion meant to be of help; it's not a solution in itself.

So how do we get out of this situation?

There is a possibility that planning permission is given for additional classrooms, which will provide a temporary solution to the school site problem. However my efforts will be focused on keeping the pressure on to get the release of the school site.

In this posting I am hoping that I have given people sufficient information to enable them to take a considered view of the situation. I don't want to engage in a futile blame game, but as a public representative, I have and all others have a duty to address the source of such problems and highlight where responsibility for this scenario lies.

In large part it lies at the feet of this Government for presiding over and sustaining a planning system which puts the interests of the few ahead of the many.

We are supposed to live in a republic where citizens are meant to be equal under the law. One of the central tenets of de Valera's constitution, subsequently enacted by the people of Ireland, was for all of our children to be given equal access to the educational system. It's not clear that this is happening in East Meath today.

In the short term, it's time for the landowners to complete the transfer of land, so that the school can be built. In the long term, it's time to change the law and system to put the interests of our nation's children ahead of other considerations.

Comments:
Well said.

This issue needs to be brought up to a national level.

I think we forget that one of the pillars of our 'wealth' as our education system.

While kids don't have a decent school, one of the vendors of the land in question is in the paper over the weekend boasting about spending 100 Grand on his garden.
 
This whole affair stinks, it has greed written all over it.
We are all been led on a merry dance and the landowners are calling the tune. It appears landowners are holding a gun to the councils head. I suspect this saga will be resolved when a deal is done to rezone further land for houses in East Meath.

And as for the politicians in this area who so regularly tell us at the doorstep and through their glossy literature how aware they are of the educational crisis and how committed they are to building a new school,if they truly believe those words (and I have I no reason to think otherwise) they should come out and call a spade a spade.
You can stretch an elastic so far and people will vent their frustration at the ballot box regardless of who is to blame in this debacle. It looks as if the sh.. will have to hit the fan before this comes to a satisfactory conclusion. Signed SHRA
 
Dominic and Parents

This situation would be farcical if it weren’t so tragic. The planning authorities and various governments have authorised the development of thousands of new homes in East Meath which would suggest that they anticipated that thousands of new families would move to the area.

Laytown School (which was last extended in 1976) was patently unsuitable to accommodate the inevitable influx of school age children. Strategic planning is supposed to be joined up policy encompassing all land uses associated with human habitation.

That this farce should be allowed to happen in the 21st Century in a supposedly prosperous European nation is deeply disturbing.

Many Irish people now work in a globally competitive environment where this type of gross incompetence is unheard of and/or unacceptable.

As a previous poster said “our children are our greatest asset” and this shambles is not the type of lesson we should be teaching them (that's if we had a place to teach them). Regrettably we believe that a hamfisted, half baked solution will be foisted on parents and children alike.

The most recent letter received regarding where our children will be educated 'states' that the children will be transported to and from Bellewstown Racecourse (a 16 mile round trip). Where is the logic in this? It's bad enough that adults are forced to commute on a daily basis to work but forcing children as young as 4 to commute as well is beyond laughable.

As affected parents we would like to thank you Dominic for your efforts, you have our support.

Yours furious
 
Dominic,
I would like to thank you for your support and the clarity you have brought to the situation.

I am the concerned parent of a child at Laytown school. I have seen over the past few years how more and more pupils are being crammed into the existing site and I feel that all of our chldren deserve better.

I feel that we have been let down by the authorities. The vested interests in the school are using our children as pawns for their own ends;this includes the patron of the school who also has a personal agenda.

I support your call for a change in the planning laws to benefit the entire community. I also believe that the education of our children should be taken out of the hands of the Catholic clergy.

I would further urge all parents to contact the school authorities, local and national politicians to bring pressure to bear to ensure that we have a long-term and viable solution to the problem - a new site with sufficient space and facilities to accommodate the present and future educational needs of ALL our children.
 
"In large part it lies at the feet of this Government for presiding over and sustaining a planning system which puts the interests of the few ahead of the many. "

Indeed. It is a pity then that you support their representatives in Meath County Council. Make education a priorirty, and refuse to support FF on the council without getting guarantees from their ministers on these issues.
 
Dominic,

Thank you for your well outlined draft on this very serious issue.
I have a child who is enroled to start in Laytown School next year and following the meeting that was held down in the school last week we are no more clearer on whats going to happen going forward with this tragedy. The meeting last week was generally a political battle for some people - do these people not realize they are playing with kids educations!??
Following a meeting with parents with kids starting school this wk it was said that the school day will now only be from 2.15 - 5pm - what sort of soloution is this? The only other soloution made was for Bellewstown which in my mind was also out of the question - local authorities have known about this a long time and the above are the only soloutions they could think of 3 wks before the school term begins! Also the parents were advised that if there is no school built by next year that NO KIDS WILL BE TAKEN where does that leave my child and many others??
We need action not words!!!
 
Dominic - I'm very interested to see you taking this new found interest in Laytown School. Although it's a pity that your interest doesn't extend beyond issuing press releases and writing blog entries.

This requires a cross-party approach. FG and FF are already working together on it locally - do you not think you'd be better supporting their efforts?
 
Laytown school crisis will take years to solve. (1)Site has to be handed over. Vendor & purchaser of land along with meath county council will all have to agree a strategy on this. Vendor has held on to land to relocate his shop.The council are anxious to have school developed on road front as it will mean less work on the provision of services.
(2)Will there be a arceological dig on site?
(3)how long will the design,tender and contract period take?
(4) How long will the construction take?
(5)will council allow portacabins on site while permanent building is being built?
 
As a mum of a child due to start, I cannot stress enough how distressing this situation is to all involved.

To Niall, if you do not want your child educated by the catholic clergy why don't you send him to Le Cheile. Also, could you clarify what secret agenda you actually think the patron has, other than their utmost to find a solution for all of us.

Councillor, I find it appalling to think as far back as 2000 it was acknowledged the need for a school in this area and here we are in this appalling situation in 2006.

I can understand why you don't want to get into a blame game, as the blame for this mess clearly lies at your feet and those of your fellow councillors on Meath Co Co. Shame on you for failing to respresent us and our needs in the manner in which you promised!

With regard to the site at the Narrow Ways, we are in bad need of many facilities. Your kind offer of sacrificing the social housing scheme planned for there, could now well serve us and our children as playground and much needed community centre, library etc.

Perhaps, you could offer us some advice on how to explain to our children why, when the rest of the school has left and gone home, they may be allowed to attend from 2pm-5pm. Perhaps, not being a parent yourself, you find it difficult to truly relate to the upsetting nature of our situation.
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
As a long term resident of Laytown, and a mother of two children who attended Laytown School, I would like to say how shocked I am at the negative attention that is being drawn to Laytown School. My youngest son, just finished in Laytown school this year, he was in a class of 36. The conditions in his class and the other 6th class (also 36 pupils) were not ideal! Why would anyone want to start another school (st Oliver's) in the school grounds of an already crowded school??? What about the three other schools in the area, Le Cheile, Whitecross and Donnacarney, they must all have the same problem??? The county council would be crazy if they approve more pre-fabs in the school grounds of Laytown school...
 
Well anonymous,

Also being a mother of a child who currently attends Laytown Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh, I am shocked at your suggestion that I should send my son to a different school than his sister. I enrolled my child 4 years ago!

I feel your missing the point here. Scoil Oilibheir Naomha do not wish to be camped out in prefabs in a school yard with absolutely no facilities. They would love just as much as obviously you, to be on a permanent site where children can feel welcome and enjoy the proper facilities they deserve.

Surely as a mother you encourage your child to share and show tolerence. That is all we are looking for. My 10 year old niece who also attends Scoil Spioraid Naomh came up with the simple solution....she scooch up in her chair to make room. If only more people showed the same willingness...wouldn't life be easy!
 
It's all very well to blame Meath Co.Council and the politicians for the sorry State of the School situation in the Bettystown/Laytown area.However, nobody has pointed the finger at the Board of Management of the Junior School. They offered places without capping numbers knowing there was no permenant accommodation avaiable at this time. Two sites identified by you, One on the Narroways and the other at Donacarney as possible temporary solutions. The Board of the Junior school need to realize that their ideal site and the one zoned by Meath Co.Council will not become a reality before September 2008.!!! I respectablity ask them to consider one of these options before our Community is totally torn apart.
 
I find it hilarious that the media sheds more light onto the current "Bertie Saga" that the school crisis is various areas, not just Laytown, in which I live. There is a school in Finglas also that houses less than 20 students, where in total contrast our tiny, third-world school houses a number way above capacity. I can understand, to some extent, those among the Laytown residents, who are objecting to temporary school buildings being erected, as if these did go up the chance of getting a permanent building from the government would be slight. There are many schools that are housing their pupils in run down, delapidated chalets, and personally I don't fancy my little sister or anyone else's children living in such age-old conditions. If more people had the drive of Dominic Hannigan, then maybe this problem would have been sorted out a long time ago, before it got out of hand.
Nicola
 
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