THE chairman of Portadown College’s Board of Governors has accused the Education Minister of holding talks with a property developer over a single new campus in Portadown that could house five post-primary schools.
Peter Aiken said he had been provided with a copy of minutes of a Craigavon Integrated Regeneration Partnership meeting from March 2 when a presentation was made in relation to former Army land at Mahon Road.
Addressing Portadown College’s speech day last Friday, Mr Aiken claimed the minutes proved that Minister John O’Dowd had been directly involved in talks about a new single campus for Portadown College, Clounagh JHS, Killicomaine JHS, Craigavon Senior High and Tandragee JHS.
Senior education sources have told the Portadown Times that a site is being considered to house the five schools on one site. However, the Southern Education and Library Board has stressed that its Area Plan, published in July, said that all five schools would keep their own site, but with a single principal and Board of Governors.
He said the minutes from the March meeting recorded that “in terms of education” an unnamed person advised those present that proposals were not finalised “but that the area had been highlighted with [the] Southern Education Library Board [SELB] as an opportunity”.
Mr Aiken continued, “A presentation was delivered relating to lands at Mahon Road. Let me quote from the minutes, ‘In terms of education,….advised that proposals were not yet clearly defined but that the area had been highlighted with SELB as an opportunity.’ The Minister of Education is also recorded as being present at the March 2012 meeting and the minutes of the meeting state, ‘Minister for Education John O’Dowd commented that any opportunity be reviewed in the context of local education proposals.’ The minutes also record a comment that ‘there could be opportunities to group and share assets or facilities on a single site.’
“Ladies and gentlemen I will let you judge for yourselves! We have wished to proceed with the building of a new College on the present site but permission from our education masters the SELB and the Department of Education is still not forthcoming despite outline approval being given several years ago.”
A spokeswoman for Mr O’Dowd told the News Letter that he attended the meeting as an MLA for Upper Bann and that the comments about sharing assets and facilities came from the property developer.
She added that Mr O’Dowd’s comments “as reported, fit with the principles of area planning and are not an endorsement of any proposed developer’s plans in the Portadown area.
“The minister will set the direction of travel for the education system when the consultation responses to area planning have been analysed,” she said.
An SELB spokesman said it is “not considering any such plans and, as no such proposition has even been put to the board [and it] does not know where this reported speculation has come from”.
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