PRIMARY’S £5M NEW SCHOOL DREAM DASHED BY CASH FLOW

A CARRYDUFF school has been left devastated after its dream of a new building was dashed by a funding crisis.

Millennium Integrated Primary is set to lose a £5m construction project that was to provide a brand new home for the school as it nears its 25th birthday.

The project won planning permission in 2020, and was to include a 14-classroom new building for the primary and a two-class nursery unit as well as hard and soft play areas.

Millennium was supposed to have been guaranteed part of a £150m cash pot to cover construction costs.

Now the UK government has taken that money away, reassigning a fund that was meant to be reserved for integrated schools in need of new premises into Stormont’s general budget.

It means integrated school construction projects now have to compete with essential services plus Northern Ireland’s struggling health sector and damaged roads network, among many others, for money that was meant to be theirs alone.

The likely outcome is that none of the 10 schools in Northern Ireland hit by the decision to reassign the cash will be able to build their dream new homes.

The move has devastated the community around Millennium and outraged local representatives, with Strangford MLA Nick Mathison decrying the removal of the money as ‘an act of vandalism’.

“For Millennium Integrated Primary to have the rug pulled from under their feet at the 11th hour is completely unacceptable,” said Mr Mathison, who is Alliance’s provincewide education spokesman.

“The Department of Education has already spent substantial sums on [preparation] works on site, and playground and outdoor learning space has been lost as a result.

“Alliance is calling on the Secretary of State to undo this harmful decision – but the Education Minister does have levers available to him now that could secure funding for integrated schools that are ready to progress with their new builds.

“The minister must take steps to reverse this decision. Anything less is an act of extraordinary bad faith.”

Millennium Primary principal Barry Corrigan has vowed to push ahead with the new build plans.

But he confirmed that more than half of the school’s pupils are currently being taught in temporary classrooms that were built instead of a full extension as Millennium expected to move to brand new premises in the near future.

“The rug was taken out from under us,” he told BBC Radio Ulster over the weekend. “We will forge forward on a number of things, but there is no getting away that there is widespread disappointment.”

A political row over the cash crisis continued this week, with Education Minister Paul Givan accusing Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris of letting down local kids.

Meanwhile the Northern Ireland Office insists that reassigning the £150m cash pot into general budgets has given the Executive ‘additional flexibility’ as Stormont gets back up and running again.