Belfast Telegraph

Now student flat plans are at risk due to halt in work at new UU campus

By Margaret Canning

Tens of millions of investment in student accommodation in Belfast city centre is at risk as the future of the new £250m Ulster University site remains in the balance, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Around six sites have been planned around the new campus, which was to be finished this year and bring 15,000 new students into the city centre.

Instead, the second phase of the new site has been subject to delays following contractual disputes between builders Lagan Somague and Ulster University. 

The Belfast Telegraph last month revealed that completion could be delayed until 2022.

And last week workers on the site downed tools days after Lagan Construction Group announced it was putting four of its firms into administration, including a firm involved in the building of the campus.

Sites of student accommodation had been planned, many by companies based in Britain, to avail of the anticipated influx of students and pump millions of pounds into the economy during the construction process.

But the Belfast Telegraph understands that at least one site where building work is yet to start is now in question.

One property insider said it was to be expected that firms would look differently on proposals as they could no longer count on the university being ready for students to attend. 

“Obviously it’s a concern as it has been very widely talked about... it was disappointing that it had stalled but the fact it’s now at a standstill will have a cooling effect,” he said. “There are a couple of permissions which may not hold back until the situation is clear. It wouldn’t make any sense to pursue them otherwise.”

However, Northern Ireland building firm Gilbert-Ash said it was continuing its work on an 11-storey development of 475 bedrooms on Great Patrick Street, which is almost complete.

It’s carrying out the work for UK property firm Olympian Homes.

Gilbert-Ash chief executive Ray Hutchinson said: “The design and build student accommodation scheme at Great Patrick Street is progressing well and is on track to be completed in late August 2018 ahead of the new academic year.”

Meanwhile, Somague had been expected to decide yesterday whether it would remain on the site to complete the job. 

But it’s understood the bad weather has affected plans for a crunch meeting with the university to discuss the future of its involvement with the project.

While the terms of a joint venture leave the parties jointly liable for completion of the project in the event of the failure of one of them, industry insiders have said Somague may lack the capability to complete the job.

A spokeswoman for the university said: “Whilst we can’t comment on commercial discussions, there were no specific decisions anticipated or scheduled  in the continued consultation with Somague to progress delivery of the project.”

Speaking in 2014, when Lagan Somague’s successful tender was announced, then UU acting-vice chancellor Professor Alastair Adair said that 15,000 students and staff would “bring the new campus to life” in 2018.

Belfast Telegraph

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