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Greenway development ‘mired in bureaucracy’

Ratepayers in Belfast may be faced with a £10m bill if work on east Belfast’s Connswater Community Greenway does not go ahead.

A dispute between Belfast City Council officials and contractors employed on the east Belfast scheme has been ongoing since late August.

The contractors — SIAC (NI) Ltd and Galliford Try Infrastructure — are now studying a letter sent by BCC’s Director of Property and Projects, Gerry Millar, that outlines a number of options to end the dispute.

One possibility outlined in the letter is to “seek a legal resolution” through an independent arbitrator and another, to “mutually terminate” the contract.

A source close to the development said that the dispute between developers and the council which has led to the breakdown in relations could possibly result in the £32m project falling through because developers cannot get access to land they should already be working on for development and flood alleviation. If it fell through the contractors could reportedly claim up to £10m in compensation from the council.

The source says contractors have moved staff off site and claims that even where ownership has been agreed, problems have arisen over vital flood |defences.

The majority of funding for the project was awarded by the Big Lottery Fund’s Living Landmarks Fund which granted £23.5m.

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In a Freedom of Information inquiry to the Council, the Community Telegraph asked how much money was budgeted by Belfast City Council for land assembly — which involves co-ordinating work across two or more sites — and flood alleviation along the Connswater Community Greenway for the 2010/2011 financial year.

The council said it did not hold the land assembly budgets but the overall estimate for land assembly for the Connswater Greenway is £540,000 and that the council does not have any budget for flood alleviation work.

A Rivers Agency spokesperson said initially £2m was budgeted for the flood alleviation in the 2010/11 financial year.

Belfast City Council was asked in the same FOI request, how much money has been spent on flood alleviation and land assembly on the Connswater Community Greenway so far in the 2010/2011 financial year.

It was asked how many areas of privately owned land must be worked on during land assembly and flood alleviation work on the Connswater Community Greenway and how many private landlords or businesses have been contacted to have works started by the Greenway contractors.

Finally it was asked how many private landlords have agreed in writing to allow works to begin.

Belfast City Council’s response was: “The council has decided that it cannot disclose the information it holds in relation to this part of your request because to do so would be likely to prejudice its commercial interests.”

East Belfast MLA Michael Copeland said: “The continuing uncertainty surrounding the project is a matter of serious concern, not only for the ratepayers of Belfast, but for those who live in areas that have been affected by flooding. This much vaunted and exciting scheme appears to be mired in the mud of bureaucracy.”

He said it remained unclear what was being done to mediate the effects of the dispute and that the money set aside by the Rivers Agency would either be lost or diminsh in value if it continued.

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