HEALTH Minister Edwin Poots has given reassurances to the people of Cookstown that the Desertcreat Training College will go ahead.
The Minister attended a meeting in Cookstown organised by Cookstown Chamber of Commerce last Wednesday (6th November) along with Mid Ulster MLA’s and local business owners.
This meeting came in the same week as DRD Minister Danny Kennedy also visted Cookstown to meet with Cookstown Council to discuss the long-awaited Cookstown bypass.
Mr Poots told those at the meeting that the Desertcreat project has now passed the approval stage and the next stage of awarding the contract should be completed in December, meaning work on the project should begin in March/April next year.
Mid-Ulster MLA’s Ian McCrea, Sandra Overend, Patsy McGlone and Minister for Agriculture Michelle O’Neill also attended the meeting.
Mr Poots said he wanted to make clear that he was the one who held back on the project over the Summer and said he did so for ‘a particular reason’.
He outlined that he had his concerns over the company invovled in the construction, FCC who also built the Enniskillen hospital and said he did not want history repeating itself.
Mr Poots said: “FCC is a Spanish company which is involved in this in conjuction with Gilbert Ash. FCC built the hospital for and there were problems with the contracts. There were problems with sub-contractors and I was insistent, absolutely insistent that a project bank account would be set up to allow this project to take place. I’m not going to get into a situation where we in Northern Ireland are paying a company similar amounts of public money to carry out a job where a lot of that work is completed and sub-contractors are unpaid. We’ve already had that situation.”
When questioned about whether the project will definitely be signed off in December Mr Poots responded: “What has happened is, preferred bidder status has been awarded to Gilbert Ash and FCC. So the course of work that will be done with them in terms of finalising the contract to be brought back to us for approval. Essentially they have won the bid, so provided there is not a challenge from another bidder, and that could be something that I would fear there is potential for. If you are asking me is there certainity, there isn’t certainity because the project isn’t exactly the same as what went out to tender so if another bidder challenges I don’t know what the courts would decide, none of us do. But essentially it should go ahead bar there being a legal challenge from one of the other contractors.”
Minister for Agriculture Michelle O’Neill added: “I spoke to the Strategic Investment Board this evening and they are confident that not withstanding that type of problem that the construction will start in Spring next year.”