Northern Ireland

Desertcreat college: Further setback for County Tyrone site

Desertcreat site Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption More than £12m has already been spent buying the site and on design fees

The final nail appears to have been hammered into the coffin of plans for a joint training college for the police and other emergency services at Desertcreat, County Tyrone.

The departments of justice and health have accepted a recommendation they should go back to the drawing board.

This is as the joint college plan is no longer economically viable.

The Treasury has also said that nearly £80m of special funding may no longer be available.

Storm clouds have been gathering over plans for a new state of the art training facility on the 210 acre site near Cookstown for a number of years.

It was first announced in 2004 and was originally due to be finished in 2008.

It is more than 10 years since the site was bought.

Last November, the team in charge of plans to build the new training college said the project should not continue.

The £130m facility at Desertcreat was to have been shared by police, fire and prison services.

More than £12m has already been spent buying the site and on design fees.

By now it should have been home to what the Stormont Executive said would be one of the best training colleges in the world.

Vision

But it now seems increasingly unlikely this vision will ever become a reality.

A programme team in charge of the project recently conducted a review and concluded that it is no longer economically viable.

They also said the college as originally planned is no longer needed.

A source said the three services that were supposed to use it no longer need the number of training days that were forecast.

The review concluded that the number of days the services would be prepared to pay to use the facility was 46% lower than was originally envisaged.

That means the college could not pay its running costs.

As if that was not bad enough, the Treasury has made it clear that a funding package of £78m that it agreed to provide to help build the college may be withdrawn.

That would mean Stormont would have to foot the full bill itself.

It is understood Justice Minister David Ford and Health Minister Jim Wells have accepted the programme board's recommendation that all work on the project should stop, and that they should go back to the drawing board.

They have set out their views in a paper due to be discussed by the executive next week.

A failure to build the joint training college would be a huge embarrassment for the executive as it is a programme for government commitment.

When I reported four months ago that the project was unlikely to go ahead, First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness issued a statement saying that the college would be built.

But those in charge of the project have now said that the sums simply do not add up.

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