Education news

Stalled Ulster University Belfast campus received close to £100m of public money in 5 years

Work has ground to a halt on Ulster University's new Belfast campus. Picture by Hugh Russell

CLOSE to £100 million of public money was poured into a stalled university building project over a five-year period, it has emerged.

It has now been eight weeks since work ground to a halt at Ulster University's Belfast campus - the largest venture of its kind in the north - and no-one can say when the project will re-start.

Lagan Construction Group and Portuguese-based Somague were named joint-venture partners and awarded £150m to deliver phase two, which was due to complete this year.

When Lagan got into difficulties in February, workers from all firms involved, including subcontractors, downed tools.

Accountancy firm KPMG has been appointed as administrators to four companies within Lagan.

The total estimated cost of the UU campus is £250m.

In March 2010, it was announced that a £16m grant had been awarded by the former Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) to help the planned expansion.

In 2014, UU announced it had secured a £150m loan from the European Investment Bank to "support key campus development works".

It has now emerged that the university did not draw down any funding from the European Investment Bank because even more money was made available through DEL.

The transformation of the 'art college' campus on York Street will see most courses transfer from Jordanstown and student numbers in the city rise from 2,000 to 15,000.

However, it has been suggested it may not now be ready until at least 2022.

Some workers from the Portuguese firm are understood to have returned home. It was Somague's first partnership with a Northern Ireland construction company.

The Department for the Economy, which replaced DEL, was asked about its investment and its views on the stalled project.

"The department is aware of the current position on the Greater Belfast campus project and is liaising closely with the university on how it plans to progress this significant project," a spokesman said.

"DfE provided £16m of capital grant and £73.5m of repayable loans to the university in regard to the project in the period 2010 to 2015.

"Executive funding by way of loans of £25m was provided in 2013/14, and £48.475m in 2014/15. There is no interest due on these loans however in return the university provided the Executive with £7m."

UU said all loans were "subject to fixed repayments".

"Repayment terms are commercially sensitive information. Ulster University will be fully repaying the loans," a spokeswoman said.

Funding from DfE, she said, was a "financial transaction capital (FTC) loan" which is allocated to the Executive by the UK government.

"We did not need to draw down any funding from European Investment Bank once new funding mechanisms through FTC funding became available," she added.

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