Work to resume on Ulster University’s £250m Belfast campus as deal struck
Plans are under way to resume building work on Ulster University's new £250m Belfast campus "as soon as possible".
Phase two of the major city centre scheme, a joint venture between international firm Somague and Lagan Construction Group, ground to a halt in February.
It came after four companies within the Lagan Construction Group went into administration.
Work stopped at the campus and accountancy firm KPMG was appointed as administrator for Lagan Construction Group Holdings, Lagan Construction Group, Lagan Building Contractors and Lagan Water.
While the first stage of the site is already completed, phase two, a £150m development of two new blocks on York Street, remains unfinished. Now, almost three months after work ceased, an agreement has been reached to enable work to restart.
In a joint statement, Ulster University and Somague said: "After a period of detailed discussions, Ulster University and Somague can confirm that an agreement has now been reached with the Administrator of Lagan Construction, which enables payments to be made to subcontractors.
"Somague has confirmed plans are under way to resume building works on site as soon as possible. Ulster University and Somague will continue to work together in partnership to deliver the iconic new campus development."
However, it was not revealed when the project would be completed and open to students.
The university had said that construction work would finish in 2019, with a full teaching term starting in 2020.
However, in January it was reported that completion of the work could be delayed until 2022. Administrator KPMG declined to comment.
Former UUP Employment and Learning Minister Sir Reg Empey, who signed off on funding for the campus in 2010, said he was "delighted" work could now progress, but feared the delay would incur additional expense.
"I think everyone will be glad to see the project move forward, but I hope that the costs related to the delay don't upset the economic plan for the whole site," he said.
"If Somague are taking on the whole of the contract part-way through, is that incurring more expenses?
"I was horrified when the whole thing stopped and it fell way behind.
"Also, has any damage been done to the buildings during the period where they have been idle, such as weather damage? If so, they will need to do repair work to the infrastructure."
Sir Reg added that there could be a "knock-on effect" in terms of when the campus would be ready to admit students.
"The positive is that it is running again and the redevelopment of that whole area is under way," he said.
Alliance MLA Stephen Farry, also a former Minister for Employment and Learning, described the recommencement of work as "very encouraging news".
"The Belfast campus scheme is critically important, not just for the future of higher education here, but for the regeneration of the city and the economy of Northern Ireland," he said.
"It's a critical component in making sure our society stays competitive.
"It is also good news for the subcontractors and for our construction industry. The pause has been frustrating, but it seems the scheme is now on its way to completion."