Landmark interface university project was undermined

The British government and the University of Ulster have been slammed by Sinn Féin for “strangling” plans for the proposed Springvale University in northwest Belfast.

In May 1998 the then President of the United States, Bill Clinton, and the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, visited the proposed site at Mackies on the Springfield Road amidst much hype for the peace process in an interface area between republican and unionist communities.

Plans for the university were later shelved but, as today’s damning report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, not before an extraordinary 3.6 million pounds sterling was “wasted”.

The most damning comments came from Sinn Féin West Belfast MP Gerry Adams, who was scathing about the role of the University of Ulster and the British government.

“This investigation by the Audit Office reveals that the concept, and the agenda for regeneration, was strangled to death by senior government officials and the University of Ulster. These key partners to the Springvale Educational Village project did not share a strategic vision of its regeneration and redevelopment. In reality they worked to sabotage it and in the process misspent millions of public money.

“The destruction of the Springvale Educational Village project is a monument to the reneging on pledges by the British government to support genuine regeneration in the most impoverished communities in the six counties.

“The ingenuity and tenacity of the community is surpassed only by the readiness of others with influence on this project to ensure it did not succeed.”

Una Gillespie, a former member of the Springvale Board which was assembled to provide community input into the university’s plans, said that the massive wastage was unacceptable.

“If a community organisation had wasted almost #4 million there would have been an outcry,” she said.

“Six economic appraisals were done testing the viability of the project, and four of those had said that the project was viable - the last one which the University of Ulster commissioned said it wasn’t viable.

“They had reduced the number of students to make sure that it showed it wasn’t financially viable. So they had at that stage politically decided that they were going to pull out of the project, and used that as an excuse,” said Ms Gillespie.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News