Islandmagee principal’s ‘delight’ as new school receives planning approval

The principal of Islandmagee Primary School has spoken of her “delight” at approval of planning permission for a long-awaited new-build which will accommodate the amalgamated Mullaghdubh and Kilcoan Primary Schools on one site.

Thursday, 10th June 2021, 7:50 pm

A new building for a 145-pupil school at Kilcairn, Low Road, was given the go-ahead at a meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Planning Committee on Thursday morning.

The new five-classroom building will include a multi-purpose hall and a multiple use games area as well as a ‘drop off and pick up zone’ for parents.

Islandmagee Primary currently operates a split site with the senior campus at the former Kilcoan Primary School and the junior pupils at Mullaghdubh. The amalgamation of the schools took place in September 2016.

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An artist's impression of the new Islandmagee Primary School.

Commenting on the development, principal Arlene Cambridge said: “We are absolutely delighted and full of excited enthusiasm to now progress with to the next stage of our new school build.

“The children, staff, governors, parents and in fact the whole Islandmagee community deserve this fabulous new facility. A huge thank you to everyone involved.”

Gary McGuinness, the council’s principal planning officer, told the meeting that 173 letters of support for the building proposal had been received as well as 30 objections, including a petition with five signatures relating to potential increase in traffic, privacy, noise and impact on natural habitat.

Larne Lough Alliance Councillor Danny Donnelly said that the new school building was “long-awaited” and would be “an important addition to the local area”.

However, he noted some residents’ concerns over “road infrastructure, parking, privacy and noise, lack of trees and impact on wildlife”.

He discouraged parents from parking in nearby residential developments. He also called for as many trees to be planted as possible and consideration to be given to the installation of solar panels on the new building.

“This new modern school building will benefit the community. I fully support this application.”

Kilcairn resident Elena Aceves Cully highlighted that in March 2017,  a number of trees had been removed from the site, which she said is registered as forest, claiming they had been felled without consultation and bird nesting boxes had been destroyed.

She said she believes that this has had a “detrimental effect on trees, habitat and wildlife”. She urged trees to be planted to compensate for the loss and asked for a “continuous tree barrier” as well as the extension of “acoustic fencing”.

She also asked for signage to be erected to prohibit parking in the residential area.

Sarah McDowell, the Education Authority’s agent, said she welcomed the recommendation to approve the building proposal. She said it is needed to provide “suitable educational facilities” for the 115 pupils living in the area.

“It is a basic requirement to deliver the Northern Ireland curriculum. This proposal will meet all those requirements.”

She went on to say that the building proposal was chosen as there are “no viable or suitable alternatives within the catchment area”. She noted “clear and overwhelming support for this proposal”.

Proposing the planners’ recommendation to approve the building plan, Larne Lough Alderman Paul Reid described it as a “good news story” noting that parents are currently faced with driving three miles between the split sites.

“I would be delighted to propose we accept the recommendation,” he said.

Commenting after the meeting, Ulster Unionist MLA John Stewart said in a statement: “Full planning permission being awarded is a major step forward in the long-running saga of getting a new primary school to cater for all the children of Islandmagee.

“It is well documented that it is almost 20 years since the education authorities proposed that primary school provision on Islandmagee should be rationalised on one site.

“With Ballypriormore being closed in 2003 and the proposal to amalgamate Kilcoan and Mullaghdubh approved in 2004, it is almost unbelievable that the process has taken this long.

“The Low road site was identified, bought and granted outline approval about 15 years ago, but at long last the light is very much at the end of the tunnel.

“The length of time this has taken to come to fruition has been well documented and was the reason that I wrote a letter, signed by all five MLAs for East Antrim in 2017, asking for the project to be put back on track and prioritised by the Education Authority and the Department for Education.

“I hope that the Department for Education learn from this.  Announcing school amalgamations before the physical buildings for a new school to accommodate all the pupils is not the way to proceed.

“They now need to give the staff and pupils of Carrickfergus Academy certainty and a timescale for providing new accommodation for them.  Split sites are less than ideal with all the transport complications that they produce.”

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

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Click here to read: New Islandmagee school plan progresses to application stage

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