Stormont chiefs should get expert advice before taking ownership of further military bases after the cost of decontaminating the Maze prison site soared to over £8.5 million, a critical report has said.
The Northern Ireland Audit Office probe said £20.8 million has been spent on redeveloping the site, though major work is still needed before it can be put to new use.
The slow progress in redeveloping six former security force sites that were handed to the Stormont Executive eight years ago was rapped in the report.
But the document highlighted the impact on the Stormont purse of decontaminating former military bases where the presence of fuel spills, lead, asbestos or harmful chemicals has been found.
The audit report raised concerns over the extent of soil tests carried out on the adjacent Maze Prison and Long Kesh army base before the site was transferred to the ownership of Northern Ireland ministers.
"Our review of documentation offered little detail regarding the extent to which OFMDFM (Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister) carried out due diligence checks on the sites to establish the extent of remediation work that would be required following their transfer," the report said. "This is surprising given a condition of transfer was that `the Executive must bear the cost of making the sites ready for use as and when they are released'."
OFMDFM said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had already made clear it would not carry out any decontamination, while conducting the work prior to the transfer of the lands would have delayed the process.
The Audit Office also, however, highlighted two successes in the regeneration work.
It pointed to the construction of the £14.7 million Peace Bridge in Londonderry, funded with the Special European Union Programmes Body, and praised the success in opening up the historic Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast to the the public. Work is continuing on the prison which dates back to 1845.
Six military bases and security sites were given free of charge by the UK government to the Stormont administration and by March this year £48 million had been spent, primarily in the preparation of the Maze, Ebrington site and the Crumlin Road jail.