Ulster University tight lipped on campus building delay

Building of Phase 2 at the Ulster University Belfast campus. Picture by Mal McCann

ULSTER University is remaining tight-lipped about the reasons why a £250 million campus project will take longer than promised.

The Irish News revealed earlier this week that the new Belfast campus - the largest building project in the north - will take at least one extra year.

Politicians have demanded that the university explain the delay, but UU has so-far refused to say exactly why the massive scheme is slowing down.

It dismissed claims of a five-year delay as "absolute nonsense" and declined to comment on suggestions that an issue with foundations is the cause of the hold-up.

Construction work is continuing to transform the 'art college' campus on York Street, at the top of Royal Avenue near the city centre.

This will see most courses transfer from Jordanstown to central Belfast and student numbers in the city rise from 2,000 to 15,000.

Late 2018 was an agreed "key milestone" - the date on which work was expected to be complete.

However, the university has now taken the decision to welcome students only at the start of the 2019 academic year.

It is expected the delay will have a knock-on effect for developers who are seeking to create thousands of student flats in Belfast.

Numerous sites have been snapped up by private sector firms ahead of the opening of the campus.

Applications to build a 14-storey apartment block at York Street and an 11-storey student building at Great Patrick Street, providing accommodation for hundreds of students, are among those already approved by Belfast City Council's planning committee.

Further applications for an 11-storey block near homes at Kent Street and Stephen Street and a separate 10-storey apartment block near the junction of Carrick Hill and Clifton Street have been rejected.

More again are still to be considered.

One housing scheme - the 45-room Mark Royal House, just yards from UU's front door - has already opened.

Planning committee member and SDLP councillor Brian Heading said he was keen to speak to both UU and Queen's University about their future plans.

"I'm rather surprised about this delay given that it could affect planning applications that have already been approved," Mr Heading said.

"I have already asked the planning committee to extend an invitation to the universities to discuss student accommodation, and will be pursuing that now in light on this delay announcement. I would like this to happen sooner rather than later."

Meanwhile, new Foyle assembly member Eamonn McCann has said the delay in Belfast represents an opportunity for UU's Magee campus in Derry.

The People Before Profit member renewed his call for UU to move an entire faculty to Magee, which he said would "free up much-needed space on the Belfast campus".

"Hundreds of millions are being poured into the new Belfast campus while Magee shrinks," said Mr McCann.

"I will be arguing for some of the administrative departments of the university to be moved to the Magee campus, as well as the staff and students of at least one faculty."


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