Northern Ireland

DUP MLA’s objection to Irish language school plans included concern for endangered bats

A wide-ranging objection letter submitted by Joanne Bunting detailed concerns over the plans

DUP East Belfast MLA Joanne Bunting raised concern over bats. Picture: Mal McCann
DUP East Belfast MLA Joanne Bunting raised concern over bats. Picture: Mal McCann

A DUP MLA’s objection to plans for a new Irish language primary school building in east Belfast included concerns for endangered bats which may live nearby.

Bunscoil na Seolta, being set up by Irish language campaigner Linda Ervine, had plans for a site on Montgomery Road passed by Belfast City Council’s planning committee.

Two objections were received, one from a resident and another from DUP MLA Joanne Bunting.

A wide-ranging objection letter submitted by Ms Bunting detailed several concerns, including the use of so-called employment land, parking as well as issues around sustainability and environmental concerns.

On the ecological impact of the school, which Ms Ervine says has received more than 200 expressions of interest, Ms Bunting’s letter states that a “comprehensive bat survey” needed to be carried out in the area.

“It is imperative to consider the potential ecological impact of the proposed development on the surrounding environment,” the letter states.

“There are indications that bats may inhabit the vacant building adjacent to the proposed school site. Given the protected status of bats and their habitats under wildlife conservation laws, a comprehensive bat survey should be conducted to assess the presence and potential impact of these protected species.

“Failure to adequately address this ecological concern could result in irreversible harm to local biodiversity and contravene relevant conservation policies outlined in Northern Ireland planning policy.”

Her letter also states concern around the use of land that had previously been designated as ‘employment land’ which could be used with a view towards growing the local economy.

3d Artist\'S Image Of The Planned Bunscoil At Montgomery Road 2
Artist's image of planned bunscoil at Montgomery Road

The plans will see the new primary school housed temporarily at the site for up to five years. Bunscoil na Seolta is set to open in September after nursery school Naíscoil na Seolta opened in East Belfast in 2021.

Ms Bunting told The Irish News she objected on “numerous and various planning grounds”.

“I am concerned that local communities were not properly consulted,” she added.

Alliance councillor Michael Long said the development of the school within East Belfast shows “positive signs of change”.

“We’ve been supportive of the Irish language school which will also be the first, as far as we know it, integrated school in East Belfast as well,” he said.

“It has faced difficulties in the past and it’s disappointing that this application faced objections from a local representative.

“I don’t see any real reason why any representative would object to this, and the fact that there was only two objections shows the level of support that it has. The consultation was open to all and the development of the school is a sign of a positively changing East Belfast.”