Northern Ireland: major-projects cost balloons by 44%

The cost of Northern Ireland’s biggest construction projects has soared by £2.45bn, with a major contractors’ organisation warning that inflation is leading to schemes being scrapped.

The anticipated cost of 77 capital projects has reached a combined £8.08bn, up 44 per cent from the £5.63bn they were priced at in 2019, according to a report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO).

Only one of seven flagship projects identified as high priority by the Northern Ireland Executive in 2015 has been completed (see list below).

The NIAO called for “fundamental reforms” to the commissioning and delivery of major projects in Northern Ireland to “ensure value for money is achieved and public services are improved”.

The projects analysed include an upgrade to the A5 highway, which was originally costed at £799m and planned for completion in 2018. The cost estimate has since more than doubled to £1.7bn, with completion expected in 2028.

The NIAO also flagged a project to build a new regional maternity hospital in Belfast, which is being built in three phases. The first phase had been earmarked for completion in December 2015, but work only started in November 2017 and completion is now expected in June 2025. Meanwhile, the cost of the first phase has increased to £97.1m from £57.2m.

The NIAO said: “Given the scale of delays and cost overruns, we are left with the clear impression that departments are not achieving value for money in the delivery of these major capital projects.”

It called for a “transformation project” for the sector, including a new framework to “ensure accountability and delivery of major projects in Northern Ireland”.

It also called on the Northern Ireland Executive to consider alternative delivery models and for it to review, clarify and streamline the roles and responsibilities of all the bodies involved in major capital works.

In response, the Construction Employers Federation, which represents the construction industry in Northern Ireland warned: “Many government clients entered this financial year with no discretionary expenditure – leading to the cancellation of huge swathes of tendering activity.

“When you add to this the context of our overall public capital investment being at the same level annually as it was, in cash terms, as 2007-08, then we face a very difficult period ahead.”

Construction News approached Northern Ireland’s Department for the Economy for comment.

Northern Ireland projects identified as high priority in 2015

  • A project at the A5 motorway to upgrade the western transport corridor and to link some cities in Northern Ireland.
  • An upgrade at the A6 between Londonderry and Belfast.
  • A new Belfast Rapid Transit system, covering phase one (completed in 2018).
  • A new Belfast Transport Hub, including a bus and rail concourse, plus eight new rail platforms and 26 new bus stands.
  • A new maternity and children’s hospital in Belfast, on the site of the Royal Hospitals.
  • A training and development centre for the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service in Cookstown.
  • A new Gaelic games stadium, called Casement Park, in Belfast, to replace the existing one.

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