Stormont spends £2m on road for stalled Strule campus in Omagh
STORMONT has spent more than £2m constructing a road to serve a major shared education project in Co Tyrone which has been suspended.
Six schools are due to move to the former Lisanelly army base in Omagh as part of the Strule Shared Education Campus (SSEC) – the north's largest school building project.
But the Department of Education said preparatory work on the £140m project has been suspended after a bidder pulled out.
Work on the campus began in 2013 but only one school is currently open – Arvalee special school and resource centre which opened to pupils in 2016.
The others moving to the site are Loreto Grammar School, Omagh High School, Sacred Heart College, Omagh Academy and Christian Brothers Grammar School.
Alongside the project, Stormont has been funding the construction of the nearby Strathroy Link Road.
The road has a £7.3m budget and is being mainly funded by the Department of Education (DE).
The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) confirmed £2.2m has been spent so far and the road is expected to be completed in early 2019.
Roads expert Wesley Johnston said around £6m for the road is from DE.
"If the Strule campus didn't go ahead, then the Department of Education would have spent £6m to build a road that they didn't have to," he said.
"It's the Department of Education paying for it so they want to be seeing benefits."
In a letter, a senior DE official confirmed the procurement process for SSEC has been suspended.
"Earlier this week, the Department of Education received correspondence indicating a bidder's withdrawal from this tender process," they said.
"As a matter of urgency, we are assessing the implications for the ongoing viability of the procurement of this contract.
"As a result, the decision has been taken to suspend this procurement process as we take stock of the situation.
"This is a disappointing development; however, the department remains fully committed to delivering the educationally and strategically significant SSEC programme and we will work closely with our stakeholders, including the local construction industry, to mitigate any impact."
The official's letter was published by SDLP assembly member Daniel McCrossan.
"A further delay throws the viability of the entire project into doubt," he said.
"This is a critical development for the north west. It should provide a boost for the construction industry, create new jobs and advance shared education in our communities.
"It's imperative that we do all we can to protect and advance the project."
Mr McCrossan, Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer and the DUP's Tom Buchanan have each requested meetings with the department.
A DfI spokeswoman said: "The provision of the Strathroy Link Road will provide considerable benefits even without traffic associated with the Strule campus."