Delay in sale of base resulted in extra costs

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THE six-year delay in selling Magherafelt Army base to the education board impacted on the local community and resulted in significant costs to the public sector, a major report has revealed.

NI Audit Office has called for all departments to ‘clearly track and account for’ ringfenced money after a probe into the sale of the base to the North Eastern Education and Library Board.

The report looks at the costs and raises concerns over the handling of several military bases including Magherafelt.

It highlights delays and the expense of removing contaminants such as fuel spills, lead, asbestos and other harmful chemicals from the sites.

The Magherafelt base was sold to the NEELB for replacement Primary and Nursery Schools which are currently under construction.

The base had been transferred to the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister under a scheme which allowed them to sell the property.

In 2008 the land was valued by the LPS at £1.5m for educational purposes and £7.5m for residential use. To ensure the land could not be resold for profit, the sale to NEELB was by way of a 999 year lease restricting the use of the land to educational purposes only. The site full planning permission was obtained in February 2009.

The sale was finally completed in February 2010 for £1.2 million, less £250,000 for site remediation costs. These costs were calculated by consultants appointed by NEELB.

However following a probe by the Audit Office, it recommended that ‘all Departments clearly track and account for how “ring-fenced” money is spent and ensure that the process is transparent to the Assembly and the local communities it was intended to support’.

The report stated: “Delays, such as those encountered at the Magherafelt site, impact on the local community and result in significant costs to the public sector

“It is evident that many factors have contributed to the six-year delay in the sale of the site to NEELB. These included a lack of clarity over the terms of the transfer and/or sale; uncertainty over the extent of contamination on the site; and significant delays in the submission and approval of planning applications due to the site’s former use as a military base and the need for consultation with a wide range of statutory bodies.

“Their impact however, is primarily on the community who was to benefit from the redevelopment of the site. Our 2010 report 22 on School Design and Delivery highlighted the issue of raising expectations and delays in delivering school capital projects after they have been announced.”

A replacement primary and nursery school are underway at an estimated cost of £4.8m. Funding for both the site purchase and capital works is being provided by the Department of Education.

The project is expected to be completed in November next year.