Peaceline plan under scrutiny

October 4, 2002

Northern Ireland's "peaceline" campus has had a major question mark placed over its future.

Despite being ten years in the planning, and with £40 million earmarked for it, there are serious doubts about the Springvale campus, which was designed to straddle the territory between the Catholic and the Protestant parts of west Belfast.

The province's Department for Employment and Learning and the University of Ulster appear to be distancing themselves from the long-term prospects for the project, for which former US president Bill Clinton cut the first sod in 1998.

A review being termed a "situational analysis" was announced after an internal report said there were "major flaws" in the business plan for Springvale in relation to its sustainability and affordability.

While minister Carmel Hanna, the university and its project partner, the Belfast Institute for Further and Higher Education, also emphasised a continued commitment to the vision of an "educational village", it was being suggested privately that the review could lead to a substantial scaling-down of the target for 4,500 full and part-time students by 2006.

Ms Hanna said she could not ignore the issue of the long-term sustainability of the complex project and it was not surprising difficulties had emerged.

"I am a strong supporter of this project and my intervention at this time is designed to move things forward to ensure that the vision for the best and most appropriate provision at Springvale is achieved," she said.

Supporting the review as a way of ensuring the development will have a more secure base, UU vice-chancellor Gerry McKenna said: "Much has changed in Northern Ireland since the inception of the project. It is essential that the model chosen for Springvale is appropriate to the current needs of the people of west Belfast and other disadvantaged areas. The problems of chronic educational underperformance and economic disadvantage remain."

He cited the need to tackle educational underachievement in the area, to accelerate entry for local people, as well as the need to create jobs and to strengthen "the skills base".

Local MP Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, said he was concerned about how the project was being managed after earlier economic appraisals had supported its economic viability. He also complained about the length of time the project had remained in the planning stages.

Springvale was given the official go-ahead in February 2000, and the government pledged £40 million, with the rest of the £70 million cost coming from a range of sources including the International Fund for Ireland, the Millennium Commission and private finance.

A community outreach centre is in place and an applied research centre is due to be completed next year.

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