University chief confirms legal dispute with contractors but hopes for an 'early resolution'
Ulster University bosses have confirmed to staff that it is involved in legal action with its contractors over its already delayed £250m city campus and said they are attempting to solve disputes "through mediation" despite claims of a further three-year setback.
The Belfast Telegraph revealed this week that the £250m campus may not open until 2022 amid ongoing disputes and legal actions against construction firms.
In an email sent to staff, seen by this paper, Niamh Lamond, chief operating officer at Ulster University, said: "Any capital project of this scale is complex and will encounter complications.
"Today's [Tuesday's] Belfast Telegraph speculates on relationships and timeframes for completion and occupancy of the new campus.
"We can confirm that the university has issued legal proceedings to resolve some issues encountered at an early stage of the project, in the construction of the basement.
"We are actively endeavouring to resolve this with the contractor, at an early stage, through mediation.
"... we will monitor and provide updates on continued progress and if any updates to timeframes are agreed, we will make that information available first to our staff."
This week this newspaper revealed that Lagan Construction and its partner Somague, which have been contracted to build the campus, have written to the university to warn it that work will now likely take until 2022, three years past the original 2019 target.
It is also believed Ulster University has stopped the builder from going public with its concerns about the second phase of construction at York Street.
Ulster University is taking High Court action against Lagan Construction and Somague, and has also begun legal proceedings against original contractor Farrans Sisk in relation to initial foundation work carried out on the second phase of the development.
The university said just last week that construction work would finish in 2019, with a full teaching term then starting in 2020.
There are concerns that delays could have a sizeable impact on the university's intake of students, given a lack of clarity on a final completion date.
Meanwhile, in her email to staff, Ms Lamond also addressed staff about another controversy this week, after it emerged the university failed to pay compensation owed to 143 dismissed employees.
It is understood the delay is due to the university miscalculating payment amounts.
"You will be aware from previous communications that the university has accepted its responsibility following the outcome of the industrial tribunal," the email to staff said.
"The payments were due to be awarded by January 15 and we had fully expected to make this deadline.
"This has been a complex task and as a result of unexpected technical complications, regarding tax and other deductions, the payment process took longer than we had anticipated.
"Every effort was made to comply with the timeframes set out in the judgement.
"However, we acknowledge that the administrative process, and the provision of updates to staff and the union fell short of the standards that we have set ourselves.
"We understand that concern and frustration has arisen from the delay and we have apologised directly to those involved."