A senior government official has warned that the €61m budget announced for the clean-up of the former Irish Steel plant on Haulbowline in Cork Harbour will not be enough to complete plans to transform the site into a major public recreation amenity.
Documents released under Freedom of Information legislation show funding for the completion of the project beyond remediation works on the toxic dump left from steel production over several decades has not been secured.
It follows on from revelations in June that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has already raised major concerns about the scale of expenditure on the project.
The core clean-up of the site is the initial stage in the plan being overseen by Cork Co Council on behalf of the Department of Agriculture that is designed to transform the island into a major public park with playing pitches, walkways and cycleways.
Files obtained by the Irish Examiner show the secretary general of the Department of Agriculture, Aidan O’Driscoll, warned the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in July 2015 that the completion of the full project could not be met from the €61m budget approved by the Government for remediation works.
Mr O’Driscoll said confirmation of the €61m funding allowed for the project to be extended to include a ground-level remediation of the site of the former Irish Steel plant.
He claimed the funding would also allow Cork County Council to be paid for the cost of producing a master plan for the island which Mr O’Driscoll said would inform the final remediation design.
However, he added: “It is important to state, however, that implementation of any element of the master plan will be entirely separate to the remediation, would be a matter for consideration by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in due course and will not be met from within the remediation budget.”
Remediation works on the nine-hectare site are due for completion in mid-2018.
Another document shows that officials in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform raised questions in August 2015 about the increased capital budget sought by the Department of Agriculture for Haulbowline in 2016 to €20m from €8m last year with the comment “evidence to date shows inability to spend.”.
The latest revelations come after briefing papers prepared for the new Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe, showed his officials have questioned proposals to spend another €40m on remediation works on Haulbowline next year.
“This level of proposed expenditure is not affordable in the context of the limited space available under the new EU fiscal rules,” Mr Donohoe was informed by his officials.
A spokesperson for Mr Donohoe said the Department of Agriculture had been advised to present a “more affordable and realistic budget” in negotiations over Budget 2017.
The Department of Agriculture has declined to say if the Haulbowline project could face delays over concerns about finance as funding for next year’s budget has not yet been agreed.
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