Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Springvale lost by 'failure of will'

A watchdog investigation has left the University of Ulster in the dock over the collapse of a £71m peaceline campus plan for west Belfast.

A watchdog investigation has left the University of Ulster in the dock over the collapse of a £71m peaceline campus plan for west Belfast.

The university's former Vice-Chancellor, Lord Smith, today accused it of a " failure of will" in the abandoned Springvale project, while the Department for Employment and Learning went public with similar criticism.

However, the Audit Office probe has also concluded that Government should have intervened "to a greater degree".

Lord Smith told this newspaper that the Springvale proposals had been on course when he left the university in 1999.

"I think from the day I left the momentum slackened completely," he alleged. "It was just a failure of will, a slackening of resolve and a lack of imagination.

"It also appears the project was starved of funds as soon as I left.

"It's a sorrow I will take to my grave. This would have done so much for west and north Belfast in terms of regeneration and educational provision.

"It would also have been a symbol to the world of two communities working together."

The Springvale project fell apart in 2002 when the University of Ulster announced its withdrawal on affordability grounds.

An appraisal that year had found the scheme would run at an annual deficit of between £266,000 and £1,176,000. The university's annual income at that time was around £120m.

Today's Audit Office report said the university failed to meet its financial commitments on the campus plan. Over a four-year period after the project was launched, the university spent some £37m on land and building schemes unconnected to Springvale, and went from having £18.5m reserves to owing £7.4m.

The university today insisted that Springvale had not been "financially viable". A spokesman accepted that it should have been "more transparent" when it was reconsidering its involvement in the plans. " It also regrets the disappointment experienced by the local community as a result of the decision not to proceed with the development," he added.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk