Northern Ireland Assembly
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Concerns Raised Over Former Military Sites
In a report published yesterday the Assembly Public Accounts Committee has raised concerns over the regeneration and redevelopment of six former military and security sites that were gifted in 2003 to the Office of the First Minister/deputy First Minister (OFMDFM).
The Report showed that OFMDFM has spent £62 million to date preparing the sites for redevelopment by either private companies or government bodies.
Speaking at the launch of the report entitled The Transfer of Former Military and Security Sites to the Northern Ireland Executive, Committee Deputy Chairperson, Joe Byrne MLA, said: “Regenerating sites such as those at the Maze/Long Kesh, Ebrington Barracks and Crumlin Road Gaol is a long term process; however, progress on their economic and social redevelopment has been disappointingly slow.
“In terms of sites released for private development, the Committee had particular concerns about the sale of the Malone Barracks. The Department could have received far more than the £3.8 million actually realised, had it received better advice from Land and Property Services (LPS) and had it not rushed into selling this valuable site.
“Perhaps the most unsettling fact was that neither the Department nor LPS were aware that the purchaser of the Malone Road site was acting on behalf of another developer. It was only following the Audit Office and Committee’s investigations that the Department became aware that the site was immediately transferred to a second developer on the day it was sold.”
“We have serious concerns with the use of an informal unconditional bidding process in the sale of the Malone site. We are very clear that sales of land and buildings should be conducted through sealed bids opened in the presence of public sector officials representing the Department or public body disposing of the asset. The sale process must be both transparent and well documented.”
The Committee was also concerned the Department could not make use of the £870,000 achieved from the sale of the Magherafelt site to the North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB); and it is alarmed that the Department is unable to definitively state that the £870,000 has not been lost to the Northern Ireland taxpayer.
Mr Byrne concluded: “The Committee is encouraged by the new strategic oversight arrangements that have been put in place by the Department which should improve communications between the various Departments and public bodies responsible for taking forward the regeneration of the sites. However, it is important that the substantial investment to transform these former military and security sites results in them becoming a long-term asset for local communities. Continued participation from these communities and their representatives is an essential element of this.”
Notes to Editors:
The six former military and security sites transferred to the Office of the First Minster/deputy First Minister were: Malone Road; Magherafelt; the former army base and prison at Maze/Long Kesh; Ebrington; and Crumlin Road Goal.
The report also highlighted significant and serious issues in relation to oversight and governance arrangements in Ilex which, amongst other projects, is taking forward the redevelopment of the Ebrington site.
The Committee acknowledged that the provision of education facilities on the Magherafelt site should provide long term benefits to the local community. However, the Committee was concerned that OFMDFM, to whom the site was gifted, required the NEELB to pay £870,000 for the site. The Department told the Committee that cash available and not immediately required must go back to the Consolidated Fund. However, it could not give a clear answer if the £870,000 has been lost to the Northern Ireland Block; but from the evidence provided this seems to be a strong possibility.
Proceeds from the sale of Malone and Magherafelt Barracks sites, totalling £4.7 million, were to be ring-fenced specifically for projects which would represent a tangible benefit to the peace process. However, proceeds from the sales may not been used for the intended purpose.
Paul Maskey MP resigned as MLA with effect from midday 2 July 2012. His successor as PAC Chairperson is Michaela Boyle MLA.