An Executive minister said his fears over one of the firms involved in building the long-delayed new Police Training College near Cookstown have been allayed – despite the fact it is £6.7bn in debt.
Health Minister Edwin Poots told the Belfast Telegraph he met with Spanish Firm FCC Construction, which had lost a "considerable amount of money", but had explained its financial structure.
In March the Financial Times reported that FCC Construction was £6.7bn in the red, and an accountancy firm was appointed to review its finances.
Mr Poots said the other project partner announced as preferred bidder yesterday – Northern Ireland firm Gilbert Ash – had a "strong balance sheet".
"The way the contract works, if either firm was to fail, then the other picks it up," the DUP minister said.
Earlier this year Justice Minister David Ford asked the Executive to advance building of the college as fast as possible, effectively going over the head of Mr Poots, who had to also sign off the project for it to get the green light.
Mr Poots said: "I was not being awkward for the sake of it. I was ensuring we did not end up paying good money with some risk attached."
The Health Minister also said the contract involved a "project bank account", guaranteeing that sub-contractors were protected and monies paid by departments cannot be siphoned off elsewhere.
Now, once the Executive gives a final go-ahead, building of the college is expected to get underway next May, with completion expected before the end of 2016 – eight years after it was expected to open.
Mr Ford said the site at Desertcreat, just outside the Co Tyrone town, would provide a first-class joint training facility for police officers, prison warders and fire and rescue personnel.
Sinn Fein Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy added: "Work on the construction phase and on future service provision at the college must now be focused on ensuring that we create maximum economic and employment opportunities for hard-pressed local companies and communities – particularly the unemployed."
PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie, who earlier this year warned significant human error was behind the mounting time delays and bills affecting the project, said: "The new college will provide each of the services with bespoke, practical and academic facilities, that will in turn help make Northern Ireland a safer and more secure place for everyone."
The Belfast Telegraph revealed in February that two consultant firms had underestimated the overall cost of the project by tens of millions of pounds.
STORY SO FAR
The Police Training College scheme at Desertcreat near Cookstown was announced in 2004 – with a completion date of 2008. Whilst the original cost of the campus was estimated at £139m, the current anticipated price is £157m. Planning permission for work on the site was granted in January. The 23,000 sq metre facility will provide teaching, training and residential facilities.