Event centre project 'between two stools'

Event centre project 'between two stools'
A computer-generated image of the revised events centre plans submitted by Bam following a request by planners for further information. Pic: G-Net 3D

A GOVERNMENT department charged with handling the finances for the Cork event centre for the last four years lacks the expertise to deliver it, its Minister has said.

The long-awaited project has still not been handed over by the Department of Culture to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, three weeks after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced it would be as part of a simplified funding process that was stalling construction.

Mr Varadkar said in Cork last month that following talks between the Government, operators Live Nation, developers BAM, and Cork City Council, funding certainty had been reached and that Cork City Council was to receive funding for the project via the Department of Housing.

The funding arrangements of a “simplified” process announced by Mr Varadkar are also still under wraps as “high-level” meetings continue but the project remains “between two stools”, according to Culture Minister Josepha Madigan who was asked to clarify its status by TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.

Ms Madigan has admitted her Department “probably doesn’t” have the expertise to deal with the infrastructure project.

“Under new arrangements, it is being transferred to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and discussions in regard to that are underway at the moment and we haven’t finalised it as of yet but they are underway and they are very high-level meetings and we are all very eager that it will progress.

“Because this has been such a complex issue, the Department of Housing is best placed to deal with infrastructure of that size.

“It will be transferred over the next couple of weeks, I imagine. The difficulty in making public statements about it is that it’s never advisable when it’s sitting between two stools. There has been an awful lot of progress over the last few months to get it to this point.

“I actually think it’s a very positive thing because [the] Department [of Culture] probably doesn’t have that level of expertise that is required to deliver on a project like this because of all the issues you are familiar with over the last number of years,” Ms Madigan added.

Mr Ó Laoghaire urged the Government to make public the new funding process for the project which he described as “torturous” to date.

“There are meetings going on and we have been hearing that for quite some time,” he said.

“One of the key funding issues was the dispute between the local authority and the national Government as to whether the additional ask of money was to be provided as a loan or a grant.

“That matters because if it is a loan as opposed to a grant, it has implications for the other services that Cork City Council provides such as housing and roads,” Mr Ó Laoghaire.

Ms Madigan would not comment on the simplified funding process and would only say the project is not a “moveable feast” and the Department of Housing would have to discuss this in-house Tánaiste, Simon Coveney told the media in Cork last month that the centre will cost more than the €80m originally cited and a new planning application by developers BAM could lead to contract negotiations with the city council, starting soon.

The previous funding package for the event centre included €21m of Government grant aid, €9m of a repayable loan and another €6.5m planned for public realm works.

Mr Coveney has said the extra public cost for the project could not be revealed until contract negotiations between BAM, operators Live Nation and Cork City Council are concluded.

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