Government concerns over ‘clawback’ of EU funds for Peace Bridge

People crossing the European Union funded Peace Bridge after it was opened by the EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn back in June 2011.  Picture: Michael Cooper

People crossing the European Union funded Peace Bridge after it was opened by the EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn back in June 2011. Picture: Michael Cooper

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The Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers expressed concerns that the EU might “clawback” funding for the Peace Bridge because of issues preventing its adoption.

Government officials yesterday confirmed that the Peace Bridge in Derry remains unadopted more than five years after it opened, with the main blockage relating to the potential for “undesirable” movement during major public events.

First Minister Peter D Robinson and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness with other dignateries at the opening of the Peace Bridge back in 2011, one of the projects which Ilex helped deliver for Derry.

First Minister Peter D Robinson and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness with other dignateries at the opening of the Peace Bridge back in 2011, one of the projects which Ilex helped deliver for Derry.

The Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers (OFMDFM) last year raised serious concerns with Ilex that the issues preventing the adoption by Transport NI (formerly Roads Service) might have serious financial implications.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act include a letter sent from Mark Browne, Accounting Officer with OFMDFM, to Ilex’s former Chief Executive Mel Higgins on May 15, 2015.

In the letter Mr Browne writes: “I must express my concern that the potentially serious consequences of retention by SEUPB of clawback in relation to the Peace Bridge was not highlighted or given prominence in your risk register.”

In his response dated May 29, 2015, Mr Higgins writes: “The Peace Bridge matter is constantly reviewed and we will continue to monitor the associated risks to Ilex. At 31st March 2015 when the quarterly risk register was completed, Ilex had not received any notification from SEUPB on the clawback of EU Funding.

“I am working with all relevant partners to resolve the outstanding matters to allow Transport NI to adopt the bridge.”

Speaking about these outstanding matters yesterday, a spokesperson for Department for Regional Development/ Transport NI said: “The Department remains committed to adopting the Peace Bridge subject to a number of conditions being satisfied.

“Work is ongoing to seek to resolve the outstanding matters. The main issue relates to the management of crowds during public events and associated potential for undesirable bridge deck movement.”

“Once resolved,” she added, “it is expected that adoption will then formally take place.”

A spokesman for the Special European Union Programmes Body (SEUPB) in Northern Ireland has confirmed that the adoption of the Peace Bridge was one of the conditions of the contract being awarded for the bridge.

He said: “The SEUPB is aware that Transport NI is seeking the resolution of a number of conditions before adoption of the bridge is concluded.

“These conditions are currently being worked through.

“The SEUPB can confirm that final adoption of the bridge is a condition of the project’s contract award,” he added.

A spokesperson for Derry’s Urban Regeneration Company Ilex meanwhile said yesterday:

“We understand DRD remains committed to the adoption of the Peace Bridge.

“Ilex is working with officials in OFMDFM, DRD and DSD to address the outstanding issues prior to the adoption.

“SEUPB has extended the deadline and asked for an update by June 2016”.

The iconic Peace Bridge has been hailed as a major success for Derry since its construction.

It was designed to physically and symbolically unite both sides of the River Foyle in a structural, fluidic ‘handshake across the Foyle’.

The Peace Bridge measures 235 metres bank to bank and 312 metres in total.

It has linked the city centre of Derry with the city’s largest regeneration site which includes Ebrington Square and numerous historic buildings now earmarked for development after planning permission for the site was granted.