Flagship infrastructure projects ‘now £2.5bn over budget’

Only one of seven key schemes identified in 2015 has been completed, says Audit Office report

Millions of euro have been allocated for the proposed upgrade of the A5
Cross-border projects The A5 upgrade between Derry and Aughnacloy, originally due to cost £799m, will now cost £1.7bn and has an estimated finish date of 2028 (Liam McBurney/PA)

Flagship capital build projects in the north including the A5, Belfast transport hub and the Children’s Hospital will now cost £2.5 billion more to complete than originally envisaged, according to the Audit Office.

An original report in 2019 looking at 11 key projects identified over-budget costs of £700 million.

But now a follow-up audit says that, based on current estimates provided, the total cost overruns are now close to £1.94 billion.

And that has prompted construction bosses to challenge the returning Stormont Executive to focus on how the public sector seeks to commission, procure and deliver major capital projects.

Comptroller and Auditor General Dorinnia Carville’s latest audit provides an overview of progress on 11 projects previously covered in a 2019 report, including seven flagship infrastructure projects identified by the Executive in 2015 as highest priority.

. (Gary)

More than four years on, only one of the seven flagship projects (the Belfast rapid transit scheme) has been completed, leaving the six others - the A5 and A6 roads, Belfast transport hub, Maternity and Children’s Hospital, regional stadia including Casement Park, and the NI Fire and Rescue Learning and Development Centre in Cookstown all behind schedule and over budget.

Four other projects which the report said had experienced problems are the critical care centre at the Royal Victoria Hospital, primary community care centres at Lisburn and Newry, Ulster University’s greater Belfast development, and the Strule shared education campus.

Ms Carville’s report said delays and costs overruns have also continued to persist in more recently-approved projects.

Between April 2019 and August 2023, the major capital projects portfolio across Stormont departments consisted of 77 projects.

Originally estimated to cost £5.63 billion to complete, the cost has spiralled by 44% to £8.08 billion, with only nine of those 77 projects are expected to meet both their original time and cost estimates.

Costs and finish dates for the six flagship projects announced in 2015 and still not completed are:

  • A5 upgrade between Derry and Aughnacloy - original cost £799m; latest estimate is £1.7bn. Finish date 2028.
  • A6 upgrade of the Northwestern Transport Corridor connecting Belfast to Derry - original cost £594m; now expected to cost £655m. Work on hold as works will encroach on to the illegal Mobouy waste site.
  • Belfast Transport Hub - original cost £209m; latest cost estimate £340m. Finish date late 2025.
  • Maternity and Children’s Hospital – original cost (maternity) £57m, cost now £97m, due to open June 2025, almost 10 years late. Original cost (children) £223m, latest cost is £590m, finish date February 2029.
  • NI Fire and Rescue Service Learning and Development Centre - original estimated £44.8m, final cost £49.9m, phase two revised completion date of April 2024.
  • Regional Stadia Programme - Kingspan Stadium completed in 2015, Windsor Park completed in 2016, both broadly in line with original costs. Casement Park - original estimate £77.5m; most recent estimates between £112m & £140m, completion expected by late 2027, more than 10 years later than planned.

Construction Employers Federation (CEF) chief executive Mark Spence said: “While the period since the previous report’s publication has unquestionably been one of major challenge given the pandemic, inflation, material shortages and the lack of an Executive, much still needs to be done to ensure value for public money and enable greater confidence within the construction industry as to the pipeline and deliverability of major schemes.”

. (Gary)

“And as we approach the beginning of the 2024/25 financial year, the Executive’s capital budget of £1.8 billion is the same in cash terms as it was some 17 years ago.”

He added: “Notwithstanding welcome recent announcements around additional funding from several City and Growth Deals and the Irish Government, ministers need to speedily address how they can grow the capital budget as that will be fundamental to the delivery of many of the key projects and infrastructure plans which are likely to form part of any Programme for Government.”

The latest report says: “Given the scale of delays and cost overruns, we are left with the clear impression that departments are not achieving value for money in the delivery of these major capital projects.

“As major capital projects run over the course of several years, it will take time to fully assess the impact of the actions that have been taken so far to improve delivery in Northern Ireland.

“However, given the lack of substantive progress since our last report, we are of the view that immediate action is needed to prevent further cost overruns and delays.”