Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Time to pull plug on police college at Desertcreat

Taxpayers have contributed £12m to the project
Taxpayers have contributed £12m to the project

The details of the long-running saga on the proposed emergency services training college for Northern Ireland almost beggar belief. It now emerges that some £12m of tax-payers' money has been spent on this proposed project on a new site near Cookstown, but a decade later not even a sod has been cut.

It is no surprise that the pressure is growing to abandon the project, but it is an even greater surprise to most people that this ill-fated scheme has shown absolutely no return for the large amount of money spent so far.

If that happened in the private sector, the result would be bankruptcy, but in the public sector the spending of large sums of money on such fanciful projects with no end-product is not uncommon, and no heads are seen to roll.

The expensive project was announced in 2004 and the plan was to build a police, prison and fire officer training centre at Desertcreat – and this was planned to be "a world leader".

Those claims now seem particularly laughable in the real world of finance and pragmatism. Almost from the start it was bedevilled with problems, and the predicted building costs have increased from an estimated £80m to around £135m.

Already the taxpayer has contributed £12m in trying to get the project literally on the ground, but to no avail.

The magnitude of the escalating costs is staggering, and people are entitled to ask why there seems to have been such little control over such massive discrepancy in the estimates.

Who was in charge of all this, and why are we finding out only a decade later that there is simply not that kind of money available? Members of the Policing Board have told the Executive that the project is too expensive, but why has it taken 10 years for people to come to that conclusion?

Some politicians have tried to score party points in their condemnation of the lack of progress, but it is hard not to agree with the DUP's Jonathan Craig who said that no one wants to take the blame for ending a project which has become a farce.

The cancellation of the project will be a blow to people in the local area, but it is time to call a halt on this grandiose scheme which ran totally out of control. This is an example of planning at its worst.

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