Questions Over Transfer of Military Bases

The North's top political office has been criticised over a 'poor value for money' deal by a Sinn Fein's Assembly member and MP.

Paul Maskey has welcomed the Audit Office Report on the Transfer of Former Military Sites to the Executive, which said that, the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) did not get the best value from the sale of a former army barracks on Belfast's Malone Road.

He said that, by 2004 the Ministry of Defence had given six former security sites to the government. This was free of charge for use as economic and social regeneration projects, but the Malone Road site was then sold for £3.8m - less than the initial valuation - and the developer who purchased it sold the site on the same day it was bought.

However, at the time of the sale, OFMDFM was under the control of direct rule ministers from London but the Sinn Fein man said they could have got more for the site.

The proceeds of the Malone Road site and another base in Magherafelt were to be used specifically towards peace projects but the audit office said it was unclear how the money was spent.

In relation to other former military sites gifted to the Executive, the audit office said the pace of regeneration had been slow.

The report also said the cost of decontaminating the Maze Prison site - mostly from the harmful effects of lead shot - is expected to exceed £8.5m.

Paul Maskey said that, as part of the Reinvestment and Reform Initiative (May 2002), six former Military and Security sites, valued at £23.4m were transferred free of charge to the Executive.

One of the conditions was that the Executive would pay the cost of making the sites ready for use.

He added that up until 31 March 2011, £48m has been spent (mainly on the Maze, Crumlin Road Gaol and Ebrington sites) which is only just over half the £85m of the public finance made available for these projects since 2003.

Mr Maskey stated: "There have been some successful initiatives associated with these sites, such as the opening of Crumlin Road Gaol to the public and the construction of the Peace Bridge at Ebrington but in general the pace of regeneration has been slow.

"Some of the recommendations within the report include, that the department (along with partner departments) needs to speed up the pace of delivery on these projects to allow for private sector investment into these sites.

"Another recommendation is that in any future transfers or sales, checks should be carried out well in advance, to ensure that all parties are aware of the potential costs of such projects to protect the Executive against any undue financial burden," he said.


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