Belfast Telegraph

Industrial Development Board spent £1.9m renting empty buildings

The predecessor of Invest NI has been slammed by an Assembly watchdog for failing to cancel a lease on two empty buildings.

Because of the oversight the taxpayer was committed to paying out £1.9 million on rent on empty premises at Campsie in the north west.

The Public Accounts Committee at Stormont investigated the Industrial Development Board (IDB) lapse.

Chairman Paul Maskey said: "The most significant risk in the Campsie units' leasing agreements was the possibility of missing the chance to break the lease after four years, thereby committing the Department (for Enterprise,Trade and Investment) to expenditure of £1.89 million if it could not find tenants.

"Yet, through an absence of risk management, this is exactly what happened - the break option was missed - and the department was left for 19 years with two white elephants it was unable to let."

In the early 1990s, the IDB entered into two 25-year lease agreements for premises at Campsie in the North West.

It had an option to break the leases after four years but the Audit Office said this was simply overlooked.

The PAC said the Campsie leases were poorly drafted and did not protect the Department's interests.

There was no clarity as to whose responsibility it was to maintain the units, meaning they quickly fell into a state of disrepair. It was not until several years after the option to break was missed that any attempt was made to market the units. It also took many years to agree with the developers to surrender the leases at a premium of £405,000.

Mr Maskey added: "The committee was also concerned about the poor quality of project management and record keeping. Significantly, there was no inquiry into why the options to break the leases were missed.

Such an inquiry would have allowed the Department (for Enterprise, Trade and Investment)to determine whether any individual was culpable of negligence or misconduct and to learn valuable lessons."

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