A government minister has defended the pre-election sod turning on the stalled €53m Cork event centre despite no building work on site four months on.
Housing Minister Simon Coveney — who played a key role in securing a €20m funding package for the scheme — has also insisted all parties are fully committed to the project and the only thing delaying builders from moving on site is outstanding internal design elements.
His comments come amid mounting concerns that building work on the project — the centrepiece of the €150m regeneration of the former Beamish and Crawford brewery site on South Main St — may not even start before the end of this year, almost two years after the €20m state-aid package was agreed.
Mr Coveney described February’s sod turning by Taoiseach Enda Kenny a week before the general election — which was at the time branded a political stunt — as a public display of government commitment to the project.
“People were asking for reassurances that this project was going to happen,” he said.
“I and the Government had given that commitment through the public funding. BAM and Live Nation also gave a public commitment to the scheme.
“If we hadn’t performed a sod turning, people would have been more sceptical about this project.
“Obviously, work is not going ahead as quickly as we would like, but there is no doubt that this project is happening.
“It is true to say that I’m frustrated at the lack of physical progress on site, but there is no change in terms of commitment to the project.
“I am in regular contact with BAM, and they have no intention of backing away from their commitment to the project at all.
“I am extremely conscious of the frustration around the lack of progress on site.
“We want excitement to build around this project, once the design issues are finalised, and I would like to see those issues resolved sooner rather than later.”
His comments come as city officials try to arrange a briefing between BAM and city councillors to give an update on the scheme.
Despite objections from some councillors, the meeting is due to be held in-committee because of ongoing commercial sensitivities linked to funding elements of the development.
However, councillors Mick Finn and Terry Shannon said given the scale of public investment in the project — the Government has sanctioned €12m and Cork City Council has pledged €8m — any and all progress reports from the developers should be held in public.
Apart from some minor demolition works, there is still no sign of construction work starting on the 6,000-seat venue.
Containers on site are being used to service both the redevelopment of the former Capitol cinema site and the former brewery site.
It emerged last week that funding contracts for the event centre have not yet been signed, and that the developers have sought an extension to the scheme’s five-year planning permission, which was first granted by An Bord Pleanála in 2011.
City officials have also said that up to three months of archaeological investigations will be required before building work can start on site.
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