Belfast Telegraph

Ulster University’s Belfast campus faces delay to 2022 amid legal actions

By John Mulgrew

Ulster University's already delayed £250m city campus could be delayed by another three years to 2022 amid ongoing disputes and legal actions against firms building it, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The university has continued to claim the next stage of the Belfast site, the largest venture of its kind in Northern Ireland, will be open by the end of 2019.

But this paper can reveal that Lagan Construction and its partner Somague, which have been contracted to build it, have written to the university to warn it that work will likely now take until 2022 - three years past the latest 2019 target.

It's also understood Ulster University has stopped the company from going public with its concerns over the second phase of the building at the top of York Street.

And now, in legal documents seen by this paper, Ulster University is taking High Court action against the Lagan Construction and Somague joint venture.

The university has also begun initial legal proceedings with the original contractor, joint venture Farrans Sisk, in relation to initial foundation work carried out by the businesses on the second phase of the development.

The scheme is already around a year behind schedule.

The university said just last week that construction work would finish in 2019, with a full teaching term starting in 2020.

It's understood Lagan Construction and Somague issued the threat of an injunction after it wanted to issue a statement about its position in relation to the matter.

There are concerns that delays could have a sizeable impact on the university's intake of students, given a lack of clarity on a final completion date.

The university cites disputes between itself and the Lagan Construction and Somague joint venture.

It's understood six non-court adjudications have already taken place between Ulster University and Lagan Construction/Somague.

But it's believed despite taking the action against the firms, the university is hoping it will not impact on the ongoing construction.

It's also understood that the university has contacted Farrans Sisk Joint Venture, which carried out the initial piling and foundation work.

The first stage of the Ulster University Belfast site is already completed.

The issues and delays surround the second phase, which sits across the road, and includes what's known as Block BC and BD.

Ulster University's claim against the Lagan Construction Joint Venture centres around the so-called 'works package 3 contract'.

They involve claims the works were "not carried out in accordance with the contract".

The joint venture believes the works were not done so in accordance with the contract, and that they are entitled to additional money to "remedy the WP3 (contract) defects".

That has been disputed by the university.

According to the writ, the firms entered into a contract on March 12, 2015, in relation to the design and construction of the new Ulster University campus.

The university was contacted for comment and asked about the delays and legal action.

A spokeswoman said: "Proceedings were commenced by the university in order to resolve some aspects of the contract.

"This project is one of the most significant investments ever made in north Belfast and will transform the area into a vibrant and visionary campus.

"On any large and complex capital project, adjustments to timeframes are to be expected. Whilst any delay is disappointing, it is not uncommon given the scale of our development.

"We are working closely and in partnership with our lead contractor to move beyond these challenges in the continued construction of a world class facility in the city, of which the university and our lead contractor can be proud.

"As any updates to the timeframes are agreed, we will make that information available."

A spokeswoman for Lagan Construction and Somague's joint venture said: "The Lagan Somague joint venture continue to work collaboratively with Ulster University towards completion of this iconic project in Belfast."

Farrans did not wish to comment.

Sisk also did not wish to comment.

While its not clear when the scheme will be finished, once completed, student numbers in the city could rise from 2,000 to 15,000.

The first delays of the second phase of the campus first emerged in 2016, and it was then revealed that an initial deadline of 2018 would be pushed back until 2019.

It emerged the project had been delayed until late 2018, with the university setting this target as a "key milestone".

Belfast Telegraph

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