Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

DUP may pull plug as policing college goes £30m over-budget

The DUP could pull the plug on the current tender process for Northern Ireland's first police, prison and fire officer training centre amid concern that the project looks set to run over-budget by millions of pounds.

A multi-million-pound underestimation of building costs for the new facility at Desertcreat outside Cookstown could now lead to a delay in the project – which was originally due to be finished in 2008 – by at least another six months.

The Belfast Telegraph has learned that two firms of consultants underestimated the overall cost of the £135m project by tens of millions of pounds.

It is understood that the best price to come back from tender for the building costs is more than £30m over-budget.

This is the latest in a long list of setbacks for the college since plans were first announced in 2004.

Finally, last month, planning permission was granted, however disagreement has now broken out over how to deal with the unexpected increase to the overall cost.

Despite the large rise, some of those involved want to push ahead in the hope the over-expenditure could be reduced to around £15m.

However, it is understood that Health Minister Edwin Poots and Finance Minister Sammy Wilson have said they would not be happy for the project to go ahead at the new estimated cost.

It is believed Mr Wilson is adamant a new tender process is launched, leading to further delay.

Some Policing Board members are also understood to be opposed to the project proceeding under the current tender process.

A crunch meeting between PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie and members of the Policing Board failed to bring any resolution earlier this week.

The Fire and Rescue Service, Justice Minister, Health Minister, Finance Minister and the Strategic Investment Board have also been briefed.

A source close to the programme said: "The tender price has been a massive shock to everyone and there is disagreement over what action to take. You are damned if you do go ahead with it and you are damned if you don't. Money had been set aside in the budget for this but as it stands more money is needed. This is public money and the right decision has to be made."

The Department of Justice last night insisted the project has not been postponed, but refused to comment on the increased cost.

A DoJ spokesman said: "Plans to provide a new training college for the police, prison and fire and rescue services at Desertcreat have not been postponed. The project has recently received full planning permission. As we are currently in the procurement process it is not appropriate to comment on cost issues."

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