HL Deb 07 November 2002 vol 640 cc868-9

11.21 a.m.

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare an interest, having been vice-chancellor of the University of Ulster from 1991 until 1999.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the current situation regarding the development of the tertiary education campus at Springvale in north and west Belfast which was launched in 1998 by the Prime Minister and President Clinton.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, in the preparation of the outline business case for the Springvale project, serious doubts have arisen about affordability and long-term sustainability of the main campus element. The Springvale board, representing the promoters and the local community, has been asked to carry out an urgent review, which should, if necessary, include consideration of alternative models. A response is awaited.

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that Answer. Is it not disappointing that after four years, when Springvale was originally given the go ahead, the development has come to this state of affairs? Does he agree that the people of west and north Belfast feel extremely let down by the situation? What steps will the Government take to help to rescue this initiative once the Springvale board has reported, bearing in mind that it received widespread political, religious and, most importantly, community support, together with the strong personal endorsement of the Prime Minister and President Clinton?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that it is disappointing. I understand and share the feelings of the local community that he identified. Our position is that we shall support the Springvale board in the conduct of the review. We would like to secure resolution and progress as soon as possible. However, it does no one any favours to allow moneys, whether public or private, to be spent on projects that simply cannot have a sustainable outline business case on the grounds of financial viability.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, in asking this question, I have to declare an interest as a Millennium Commissioner and a member of the court of the University of Ulster.

Is the noble and learned Lord aware that the Millennium Commission has put £1.5 million into an outreach building on the site, which is now complete, or very nearly complete? The raison d'être for that was that the Springvale campus would go ahead. Is he also aware that if it does not go ahead, that will almost certainly have an impact and lead to clawback of that £1.5 million from this worthwhile project in a very poor and disadvantaged area?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I was aware that the Millennium Commission had contributed £1.5 million and, as the noble Lord will be aware, there has been £2.5 million from Atlantic philanthropies. The community outreach centre has been completed and is fully operational. The other two components—the applied research centre and the main campus—remain in doubt. I hope that the outreach centre will continue its excellent work.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware—I am sure that he is—that the lower Springfield Road is a notorious sectarian interface and a de-industrialised area? Does he agree that considerable expectations have been built up in the local population because of years of preparation for, discussion of and negotiation on the project? Does he accept that bringing it to fruition in a greater form than it now has would be a major confidence-building measure which I hope the Government will support?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. He is quite right; the project has been in development for a long time: since 1993. I accept that it is in a socially deprived area with particular problems. However, if one does not have a sustainable business plan, it is folly to invest large amounts of capital in projects that are not likely to be sustainable.

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