A troubled plan to build a new multi-million pound training college for the police, fire and prison services has suffered another major blow after the process of agreeing a final budget with a contractor was halted due to fears of overspend.
After years of hold-ups, construction work on the proposed £157 million facility in Desertcreat near Cookstown, Co Tyrone, had been due to begin in June, but that time table has been effectively ripped up with the college board's decision to end negotiations with preferred bidder FGP Consortium.
The consortium, which comprises Spanish company FCC Construccion and locally based firm Gilbert Ash, was appointed at the end of last year after winning a tender process.
But the college's programme board said engagement with the consortium had been discontinued as its representatives had been "unable to demonstrate that they can offer an affordable and compliant bid".
Of the total £157 million budget for the project, around £110 million has been earmarked for the construction costs. It is understood FGP's anticipated bill came in significantly higher than that.
First announced in 2004, the college was originally predicted to be finished by 2008 for a cost of around £80 million.
Costs subsequently spiralled and the latest setback now casts major doubt over the revised autumn 2016 opening date.
The board has decided to review the current situation and could potentially launch a fresh tender process before the summer involving the original five short-listed bidders.
In a statement, the Northern Ireland Community Safety College said: "The Northern Ireland Community Safety College Programme Board has discontinued the current stage of the preferred bidder process to build the new College by FGP Consortium, which comprises FCC Construccion and local company Gilbert Ash.
"Following extensive engagement with FGP Consortium, we have discontinued the current stage of the process, as FGP has unfortunately been unable to demonstrate that they can offer an affordable and compliant bid.
"While this setback is very disappointing news, the Programme Board remains committed to the development of the Northern Ireland Community Safety College at Desertcreat to provide integrated training for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service and the Northern Ireland Prison Service.
"The Programme Board has immediately begun a stocktake of the current situation and is actively exploring a number of options."
A spokesman for Gilbert-Ash said: " We have been informed by letter this afternoon that the client has taken the decision to discontinue the tender process.
"We are disappointed that we have not been able to agree a commercially viable way forward despite our best endeavours and considerable investment of both time and money in developing this project."