Belfast Telegraph

Training college plans in disarray

Already troubled plans for a £157 million state-of-the-art police, fire and prison service training college lay in disarray after the group behind the project said they should not proceed in the current financial climate.

The assessment of the steering group, which is made up of Stormont officials and representatives of the emergency services, came after it undertook a review of the envisaged development in Desertcreat, near Cookstown in Co Tyrone.

The Stormont Executive will make any final decision on the fate of the troubled Northern Ireland Community Safety College (NICSC) project as its construction is a commitment in the Programme for Government.

The planned new build has already been beset with years of delay and setbacks. First proposed in 2004, it was originally envisaged to be opened by 2008 but building work has still not started.

A procurement exercise stalled earlier this year when concerns were raised over whether the project could be delivered within budget.

Sinn Fein MP for Mid Ulster Francie Molloy said the project should proceed.

"Sinn Fein welcomed the choice of Cookstown as the site for the new joint training college and we recognise that this project would not only boost training but would also provide a major boost to the local area," he said.

"We will continue to press for this facility to proceed at the present site."

The DUP chairman of Stormont's Justice Committee Paul Givan said serious questions needed to be asked of the management of the development.

He said the £12 million already spent on drawing up the plans represented a "colossal waste of taxpayers' money".

"It is over 10 years since the site was bought by the Policing Board in Cookstown to develop a new state-of-the-art integrated training college for the police, prison and fire service," he said.

"So far over £12 million has been spent on the project with a recommendation from the steering group that it should stop. The public will be rightly outraged by this lost opportunity and colossal waste of taxpayers' money."

He added: "To blame this position on the current financial circumstances is to deny the reality that this project has been planned for over 10 years and money has been allocated, but each year this was handed back through a series of failings that fundamentally undermined a project which should have been operating by now. I will be raising this issue at the Justice Committee and calling before it those that are responsible for this unacceptable position."

A spokesman for Stormont's Department of Justice said: "Following a detailed review carried out by the NICSC Programme Board the steering group has concluded that it would not be prudent at this stage to press ahead with the current project.

"The steering group has however asked for reviews to be carried out to determine what the present position means for the procurement process and secondly to review the training requirements for the three services taking account of the current budgetary climate.

"As development of the college is a commitment in the Programme for Government, any decision on its future will be taken by the Executive."

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