Shared education campus scheme years behind schedule
A plan to start 10 shared school campuses by this year is falling behind schedule - with the first at least two years from opening.
The Shared Education Campuses (SEC) programme was launched in January 2014 under the Stormont executive's Together: Building a United Community initiative.
Money for new buildings was secured under the Fresh Start Agreement with a commitment to "starting 10 new campuses by 2018".
While five projects have been announced to proceed in planning, only two have reached design stage and no money has been spent on two of the other three.
The first call for applications ran in early 2014. A total of 16 projects involving more than 50 schools were competing for funding, but just three were approved.
Two more schemes were approved after a second call.
A third set of projects approved to proceed in planning was expected in May 2017 but no details have emerged as it is understood discussions are still taking place about funding.
Asked about the progress of those that have been approved, the Department of Education confirmed that work was continuing.
"To date five projects have been announced to proceed in planning and the executive committed to starting 10 new shared education campuses by 2018," a spokeswoman said.
"Two projects are at design stage and are progressing well - these are shared facilities for St Mary's High School Limavady and Limavady High School, and a SEC for Ballycastle High School and Cross and Passion College. Business cases are currently being prepared for the remaining three projects.
"Current estimates for completion of the Limavady project is autumn 2020 and for Ballycastle SEC late 2022."
Applications for the third call were assessed in March 2017. In July, permanent secretary Derek Baker approved "a number of projects to proceed in planning subject to confirmation of capital funding under the Fresh Start Agreement".
"Discussions on access to FSA capital funding are ongoing between DE, the Department of Finance and the Northern Ireland Office," the spokeswoman added.
The scheme has attracted its critics. An influential government adviser, Sir Bob Salisbury, claimed some projects were "patently absurd" and while shared education may be fashionable now, there would be little long-term impact.
The Strule project in Omagh, formerly known as Lisanelly, operates outside the initiative. It too is facing delays after the department suspended the procurement process.
The plan is to bring six post-primary schools onto a single site formerly occupied by the British army.
The five shared campus projects are:
:: Moy Regional Controlled PS and St John's PS. The Moy SEC proposes a single school build on a new site to accommodate both primary schools. Each will retain its own distinct identity but share facilities such as multi-purpose hall, play areas and library.
:: Ballycastle High School and Cross and Passion College. A single build encompassing both schools with shared facilities at the centre and core schools at either side.
:: St Mary's High School, Limavady and Limavady High. Two new shared facilities - a sixth form/careers/media and drama centre on the St Mary's site and a shared Stem centre at Limavady High.
:: St Mary's PS, Brookeborough and Brookeborough PS. A single build on a neutral site to accommodate both.
:: Duneane PS and Moneynick PS, Randalstown. A single build on a neutral site to accommodate both.