HomeInfraStalled Northern Ireland infrastructure projects prompt calls for ‘immediate action’

Stalled Northern Ireland infrastructure projects prompt calls for ‘immediate action’


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Only one of seven flagship infrastructure projects in Northern Ireland has been completed despite them being earmarked as “highest priority” by Stormont almost a decade ago, a watchdog report has found.

Casement Park, the A5 road and a new maternity and children’s hospital are among the stalled high-profile schemes in which costs have risen sharply, , prompting calls for “immediate action” to prevent further delays and cost overruns.

The Northern Ireland Audit Office report, published on Tuesday, reveals it will cost £2.45 billion (€2.86 billion) more to complete all 77 major capital projects across Stormont departments than was originally estimated, money that “could have been invested elsewhere to improve public services”.

Auditors warn that more needs to be done to “identify, and crucially mitigate, the root causes of delays” and point to recent reviews of the North’s commissioning and delivery arrangements which concluded that they were “not fit for purpose”.

In the case of the maternity hospital – it is a separate build to the regional children’s hospital but they form one project on the same Belfast site – the report notes that it was originally expected to be completed by the end of 2015 but is now put back to June 2025, “almost 10 years late”.

“Delays and overruns have continued to persist in more recently approved projects. In the period April 2019 to August 2023, the large capital projects portfolio… was originally estimated to cost £5.63 billion to complete. It is now expected to cost £8.08 billion, a 44 per cent increase on the original business case cost estimates,” according to the report.

“Only nine of the 77 projects are expected to meet both their original time and cost estimates… it remains the case that only one of the seven flagship projects has been completed.”

The Belfast Rapid Transit scheme, which created the glider bus service connecting the east and west of the city, was introduced in 2018 after being prioritised by the Stormont Executive three years earlier as one of its seven flagship projects.

A north-south glider bus service was announced in 2022 but it “could be 2029 before it is operational, dependent on funding”, the report states.

Northern Ireland’s Comptroller and Auditor General Dorinnia Carville acknowledged that large capital projects were “inherently complex” and in “some cases” impacted by “significant external factors”, including the pandemic, inflation and global political factors.

But she expressed concerns about the scale of the delays and costs, and referred to a previous audit office report which highlighted the need for reform in the area.

“It remains extremely concerning that, more than four years after my office’s last report on this issue, there is little evidence of improvement or past lessons learned being applied to new projects,” she said.

“Even among the flagship projects, identified as the Northern Ireland Executive’s highest priority, progress has been very limited. It is clear that departments are not achieving value for money.”

The head of the Northern Ireland audit office referred to an urgent recommendation of its latest report to “drive change and ensure delivery”.

“A comprehensive transformation project must be established to overhaul the system for commissioning major capital projects and ensuring stronger accountability for how these projects are delivered,” Ms Carville said.

The release of the critical findings comes a week after the Government announced a €800 million funding package for cross-Border projects, with the lion’s share going toward the upgrade of the A5 between Derry and Aughnacloy in Co Tyrone, a road regarded as one of the most dangerous in Ireland.

A €50 million commitment was given for the redevelopment of Casement Park in west Belfast amid mounting pressure to get the 34,000 capacity stadium rebuilt in time for the Euro 2028 football tournament, after it was chosen as a host venue last year.

Political tensions have resurfaced over the soaring cost of rebuilding the derelict GAA grounds, with the Democratic Unionist Party last week claiming it was in excess of £220 million.

Auditors noted that the “most recent cost estimates were in the range of £112 million-£140 million” and that Casement’s completion was “expected by the end of 2027, more than 10 years later than originally planned”.

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