No money in the budget for Desertcreat

The Community Safety College at Desertcreat.
The Community Safety College at Desertcreat.

There is nothing left to spend on Desertcreat after Westminster pulled the £53m that was available for the project in last year’s budget.

Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone broke the news that the £53m was gone last Thursday, after weeks of asking if it was still in place.

Desertcreat College

Desertcreat College

But, it has taken some time to find out if this was the entire budget - which is now understood to be the case.

However, even in the face of this massive blow, the Department of Justice said the development of a joint training college for the police, prisons and fire service remains a government commitment - though they did not say where.

A spokesperson for the department also said that negotiations are ongoing in relation to money for the build.

In a statement to the Mail, DOJ said: “The Executive allocated £53m to the project in the 2015-16 budget but this was conditional on access to End-Year Flexibility [EYF] from HM Treasury.

I can only describe the entire process as a joke and I am so disappointed in the Justice Minister - DUP MLA Ian McCrea

“All such EYF commitments have ceased and it will be a matter for DFP to engage with HM Treasury to seek to deploy the NI contribution elsewhere in 2015-16 if possible.”

Patsy McGlone, a Cookstown based MLA who sits on the Justice Committee, said he was “deeply, deeply disappointed” by the move.

“It’s yet another negative news story associated with the project,” he told the Mail, “a project that people had invested so much in, not least of all their time and effort - another £53m that should have been spent here is gone.

“The way this has been handled is just text book case in how to do things badly, just sheer incompetence from the very word go.”

Work on the college was first supposed to start in 2008, but the project has since been dogged by problems and delays and at one point had a budget of over £120m. Over £12m of public money has already been spent buying the site, and on design fees for the project.

DUP MLA Ian McCrea has also voiced his disgust at the latest blow to the Cookstown project, branding it “a joke”.

“I can only describe the entire process as a joke and I am so disappointed in the Justice Minister, who at a cross party meeting with Mid Ulster MLA’s to discuss the project claimed he would keep us informed, but here we are finding out £53million has been lost through committee questions.

“This project was to be a building block for so many things in Mid Ulster and I share the frustration of local businesses and people that the college has turned into a farce.”