New £40m school will be 'transformative' for Monkstown

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A new £40m school building proposed for Abbey Community College in Monkstown was approved at a meeting of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council’s Planning Committee on Monday evening.

Planning permission was given for a post-primary school, provision of new and reconfigured sports facilities, play areas, replacement of floodlighting for 3G pitch, parking and landscaping at Three Mile Water Playing Fields, Doagh Road, Newtownabbey.

Principal Maria Quinn told the committee the school opened as Abbey Community College in 2015 at Bridge Road, Newtownabbey, on the site of the former Monkstown Community School following its amalgamation with Newtownabbey Community High School.

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She said the school is operating in “sub-standard” facilities which are 50 years old, “not fit for purpose and extremely constrained”. The new building she stated will provide “modern, state-of-the-art facilities”.

An artist’s impression of the new Abbey Community College. Pic: courtesy Abbey Community College.An artist’s impression of the new Abbey Community College. Pic: courtesy Abbey Community College.
An artist’s impression of the new Abbey Community College. Pic: courtesy Abbey Community College.

The principal reported that many sites had been considered for the development which had ended in disappointment before the council site was made available.

“Our school has been very successful following the amalgamation. We have been consistently over-subscribed,” she continued.

The principal offered an assurance the new building will be “transformative for the people of this area and demonstrate that they are worth investing in”.

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Construction costs will amount to £23m with an overall investment in the region of £40m.

Abbey Community College, Monkstown. Pic GoogleAbbey Community College, Monkstown. Pic Google
Abbey Community College, Monkstown. Pic Google

Local Community

Threemilewater DUP Councillor Sam Flanagan said among issues raised with the council was the retention of certain leisure facilities in the area such as a football pitch and whether it will accommodate the local community after school hours.

The principal said this has been “very much part of discussions” and she envisages a partnership arrangement with Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council to have a service level agreement.

She anticipated the facilities would be made available for community use after school hours and at weekends. “I am very much aware these type of arrangements are in place in other areas where councils have got into similar partnership arrangements.”

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The principal emphasised the school would “work openly and transparently with park officials” adding that for health and safety reasons, the building would have a perimeter fence in close proximity to the park.

Planning agent Gary Dodds said he welcomed the officer’s recommendation to approve planning permission.

“Existing school facilities do not meet current accommodation requirements. A £40m total investment from the Department of Education to provide fit for purpose accommodation will provide vital resources for a high quality learning environment.”

He also noted a £2m investment in sporting facilities and the retention of a number of grass and 3G pitches and existing tennis courts. He pointed out that floodlights will be replaced. “We believe the development will make a significant contribution to the local community.”

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Traffic Flow

Cllr Flanagan reported there have been issues with traffic flow in the area at what he described as “one of the busiest roads in Newtownabbey”.

Mr Dodds said a road assessment and detailed traffic surveys have been carried out and reviewed by the Department for Infrastructure. He noted the existing school is 450 metres from the proposed site and the road network will continue to be used to service the school. He went on to say there will be “no significant detrimental impact” to the existing flow on the network.

Glengormley DUP Cllr Alison Bennington noted, originally, there had been eight sports pitches on the site which are included in the council’s pitch strategy although she acknowledged that some were “never used” as they had a hardcore surface. She continued that this number will be reduced to four, of which, three are grass and the remainder, 3G.

Mr Dodds indicated that pitch provision had to be “balanced with sufficient parking”. “While we recognise there is some loss. what we are putting back will be a significant improvement,” he stressed. “We do feel we have forwarded a reasonable design.”

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Cllr Flanagan highlighted the Bridge Road junction which he described as “particularly bad”. He was advised there will be “no significant detrimental impact” at Bridge Road junction and that the use of residential areas for parking will be “discouraged”.

Cllr Bennington asked about the future of the existing school site and was informed it will be subject to a “disposal process”.

A proposal by Cllr Flanagan to grant planning permission was approved unanimously.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter