Suppliers move in to retrieve equipment as university scheme downs tools

The Ulster University Belfast campus, where work is currently suspended. Photo: Hugh Russell
Gary McDonald Business Editor

CONSTRUCTION supply firms swooped on the site of the £250m Ulster University campus in Belfast city centre to retrieve plant and machinery as work was suspended on the long delayed scheme for a second day.

Hundreds of workers downed tools on Monday amid fears that the Lagan Construction-Somague joint-venture partnership is set to be dissolved, with administrators from KPMG due to be appointed on Wednesday morning.

The latest problems have arisen just days after chief contractor Lagan was forced to place four of its 30 subsidiary companies into administration, threatening the jobs of a quarter of its 800 staff.

With its Portuguese partner unlikely to be able to complete the project on its own, there was an uneasy stand-off yesterday, with most sub-contractors sending their workers home.

And a number of suppliers who have leased equipment to the JV partners, clearly nervous at the potential outworking of the scheme, moved swiftly to take back hired items like generators, tools and other plant.

One onlooker told the Irish News: "It was a weird sight seeing stuff being loaded into vehicles and on to lorries and taken away.

"This will only compound the existing problems on a site which I understand is already two years behind schedule."

Neither Lagan nor Somague were available for comment yesterday, while KPMG wouldn't confirm if or when it was likely to be appointed to administer the project.

An Ulster University spokesman said: “We are consulting with Somague as necessary to progress delivery of the project. We await the formal appointment of an administrator to the relevant Lagan companies.”

Last Tuesday Lagan Construction Group confirmed that its Lagan Construction Group Holdings Ltd, Lagan Construction Group Ltd, Lagan Building Contractors Ltd and Lagan Water Ltd divisions were being placed into administration.

The company - which can trace its origins back more than half a century - said the "regrettable" move was forced on it because of what are believed to be significant delays and disputes involving several of its projects, including the Ulster University campus.

And although Lagan insisted that some of the 200 affected jobs may be transferred to joint venture partners or relocated to existing divisions within the group, that appears an overly-optimistic aspiration given the perilous state of the construction industry and wider economy.

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