The Ulster Unionist Party candidate in the upcoming West Tyrone by-election, Councillor Chris Smyth, has revealed that over £30m has already been spent on the new Strule Campus at the former Lisanelly army base in Omagh, despite the fact that construction of five of the six schools has not yet begun. The information only came to light following a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Party.
Cllr Chris Smyth said:
“The Strule Campus has been in the pipeline for over a decade and the people of Omagh have repeatedly been promised that it offered the best opportunity for them and their children.
“I can already see local community support for the scheme beginning to wane and now I suspect many will be totally shocked to learn that over £30m has already been spent on the project, with not much to actually show for it apart from some groundworks and millions spent on so-called professional costs.
“Whilst I was glad to see Arvalee special school and resource centre open to pupils in September 2016, there has been little actual progress since then. We are still a long, long away from seeing anything that resembles a shared education campus capable of teaching over 4,000 post primary pupils from the wider Omagh area.
“The feeling of frustration at the delays was heightened even further earlier this year when it was revealed that the Department of Education had suspended the procurement process for the construction of the remaining schools. The project had already been delayed by a year at that stage so it’s inevitable that even the revised completion date of 2021 will be pushed back further once again.
“The reality is that some of the existing buildings used by schools across Omagh that were promised they would be moving onto this site are simply no longer fit for purpose and it’s just not good enough that those young people have been allowed to get caught up in the limbo surrounding the Lisanelly development.
“If the delays continue we will have to decide whether the project remains viable at all or whether the money would be better spent on upgrading the existing schools as well going to support other key public services such as the health service across the wider west Tyrone area.”
Ulster Unionist Education Spokesperson, Rosemary Barton MLA, said:
“As a former teacher of over 30 years I can only imagine how difficult it must be for teachers across Omagh to be working in buildings that in normal circumstances would be benefitting from major investment and upgrading.
“The stalemate between the DUP and Sinn Fein at Stormont, and associated delays with producing a budget, dashed whatever momentum there was behind the Strule Campus project. Given all the delays to date, along with some ongoing hesitation among schools and parents, unless it is given urgent attention, then questions will soon need to be asked about the overall viability of the scheme.”