Belfast Telegraph

10 years of delays, £12m of taxpayers' money, not a sod turned ... now new police training college facing the axe

By Deborah McAleese and Peter Cardwell

Plans for Northern Ireland's long-awaited emergency services training college should be ditched as it is no longer financially feasible, members of the Policing Board have warned the Executive.

During a recent meeting of the board's finance committee it is understood members agreed the project – which has been dogged by controversy since it was first announced 10 years ago – has become too expensive to salvage.

Unveiled in 2004, the multi-million-pound police, prison and fire officer training centre planned for Desertcreat outside Cookstown was to become a "world leader in its field".

Estimated building costs have almost doubled from £80m to £135m, leading to demands for the Executive to scrap the project.

Taxpayers have already paid over £12m for the project, even though no building work has commenced.

Legal action is currently being taken against the architects who originally designed the college after costs were massively underestimated. No building contractors were able to undertake the project for the budgeted cost.

"Cost reductions have been exhausted and all the contractors have said they would need at least an extra £20m," said Policing Board member Jonathan Craig.

"That is money that is not there.

"There is only one decision the Executive can make and that is to pull the plug on this.

"Nobody wants to take the blame for crashing this project, but it has become a farce.

"This project cannot go ahead.

"The money is not there and what money is available would be better spent looking for alternatives."

Mr Craig said the current PSNI training college at Garnerville in east Belfast could be refurbished "at a fraction of the cost".

The DUP man added that the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service could extend a contract it currently has in Scotland for training with fire officers there.

A source close to the recent financial discussions within the Policing Board said: "The majority of us have come to the conclusion that the Desertcreat project as it stands cannot be salvaged financially.

"The Executive must now admit this."

More than £12m of taxpayers' money has already been spent on the troubled, long-delayed training college.

The New York architects' firm Perkins & Will, which the college's project board has taken legal action against, has been paid more than £7m. The site itself was £2.85m, with the remainder of the money spent on maintenance and preparation costs for the land.

Members of Stormont's justice committee and other MLAs are furious at the expenditure.

The UUP's Sandra Overend said: "That's over 15% of the original budgeted cost of £80m spent without even a sod turned for the foundations of the college."

The SDLP's Patsy McGlone said he hoped to see some concrete evidence of the college soon.

"This project has been incredibly slow and incredibly costly to even get to the point where we hope it's going ahead," he said.

Committee chairman Paul Givan said: "That over £12m of public money has been spent on a project that has been bedevilled with failures is an indictment of the Department of Justice and the minister must get a grip of this project before confidence is completely eroded that the training college will ever be built."

The Community Safety College project board said in a statement: "Following the failure of the preferred bidder of the Northern Ireland Community Safety College (NICSC) to deliver an affordable and compliant bid, a significant amount of work has been undertaken to move the project forward.

"The ongoing procurement process includes the option to seek tenders from the five shortlisted companies on a price only basis, a predetermined option available where the preferred bidder process is not successfully concluded.

"All cost, design and building details are being interrogated and in addition, the education, learning practices and requirements are being reviewed, to ensure that all information relating to the development and building of the new college is as accurate and up-to-date as possible, before we move ahead."

Timeline of the saga

2004: A project to build a training college for emergency services is announced. The target date for completion is 2008.

November 2005: It emerges the college will cost £50m more than envisaged and won't be ready until 2009.

May 2006: Policing Board member William Hay warns the Government is offering £40m less than the total cost, expected to be £150m.

October 6, 2011: Approval is given for a £139m spend.

June 2012: Shortlist of potential contractors is published.

December 2013: Discussions begin with the preferred bidder, FCC.

March 2014: The project is put on hold after FCC is dropped as preferred bidder.

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