Council blow for Ulidia growth plans

Ulidia Integrated College
Ulidia Integrated College

Carrickfergus Borough Council has supported an objection from the town’s controlled sector over expansion plans at Ulidia Integrated College.

Ulidia submitted a development proposal to the North Eastern Education and Library Board in November last year.

The proposal seeks to gradually increase pupil numbers at the school from 500 to 660 over a period of five years.

However, the plans were met with criticism from the other post-primary schools in the borough, who expressed concern that Ulidia’s growth would take place outside of the Department of Education’s Area-Based Plan for Carrickfergus.

The principals of Carrickfergus College and Downshire School wrote to the local authority in November, requesting their support in making a formal objection to the plans. At a follow-up meeting last month, the principals of both schools joined the head of Carrick Grammar to present their concerns directly to councillors.

Speaking at Monday night’s meeting of Carrick Council, Cllr Billy Ashe claimed: “Ulidia were invited to the meeting last month to answer some of the queries we had, but they did not attend.

“This expansion proposal would be bad for the existing schools in the borough and could force their closure.

“My proposal is simply that Carrick Council support the educationalists from the Grammar, Carrick College and Downshire in their opposition to the expansion.”

However, Cllr Noel Williams claimed that concerns over the supposed negative effect of the expansion plan on the controlled sector were “exaggerated”.

“The integrated sector is expanding primarily at the expense of the Catholic schools,” he added. “The proposal that was submitted for Ulidia Integrated College is within the Area-Based Plan; they are just putting their bid in earlier. According to the most recent figures, Ulidia is oversubscribed while both Downshire and Carrick College are under-subscribed. There is clearly parental demand for integrated education in Carrickfergus.

“The other three post-primary schools that came to brief us said that they are not against the expansion of Ulidia in principle, but they are not happy with the timing. They would prefer an expansion to take place at the same time as a new build for the College and Downshire, who have agreed to merge. Realistically, it could be many years before this project is funded, and it would be frustrating for Ulidia, parents and pupils to delay an increase in intake where there is clear demand for more places.

“I would propose that we simply note the correspondence from Downshire and Carrick College.”

However, following a vote on Monday evening, the majority of members expressed support for Cllr Ashe’s proposal.