Tuesday 22 October 2019

€30m for Cork stadium withheld as plan dubbed 'overly optimistic'

Artist’s impressions of what the redeveloped Páirc Uí Chaoimh will look like. The county’s footballers and hurlers are temporarily without a home ground
Artist’s impressions of what the redeveloped Páirc Uí Chaoimh will look like. The county’s footballers and hurlers are temporarily without a home ground
Páirc Uí Chaoimh will be redeveloped into a 45,000 seater venue with two new covered stand
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Government officials have withheld funds promised to the GAA for the €70m redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

The setback came after officials at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform expressed concern that a cost-benefit analysis prepared by the Cork County Board was not up to scratch.

A key issue of concern is that projected attendances for non-sporting events, such as concerts, may have been "overly optimistic".

The analysis report is one of a series of technical requirements which must be met before some €30m pledged from the public purse can be handed over.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin announced the funding last May during the local election campaign.

However, the Irish Independent has learned no payments have yet been made to the GAA, which is funding the remaining €40m needed itself.

The Cork County Board declined to comment on the concerns of department officials. However, it insisted the project would be finished on time.

Under the plan, the Cork city stadium, which opened in 1976, is being demolished and replaced with a 45,000 capacity ground. The new venue is scheduled to be open in time for the 2017 Munster Football Final and will also form part of Ireland's bid to secure the Rugby World Cup in 2023.

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The Irish Independent understands an initial €10m tranche of public money - due to be handed over last year by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport- has been held back.

The Department of Public Expenditure's central expenditure evaluation unit (CEEU), which appraises public-spending programmes, would not sign off on the money.

A document released under the Freedom of Information Act shows an official in the CEEU identified several issues with the cost-benefit analysis.

In an email to colleagues in January, the official said the information provided "could not be classified as a CBA (cost-benefit analysis)" as it did not present an adequate analysis of potential costs and benefits over the lifetime of the stadium.

No information was provided on certain ongoing costs, such as maintenance of the stadium.

Estimates provided in the county board's report about benefits for local businesses and tourism also required "further clarification to test their robustness".

The CEEU official also queried how match and event attendance estimates in the report had been calculated. "Given the potential competition from other event centres in the Cork area, there is a risk of attendances for non-sporting events could be overly optimistic," he said.

The official said a claim in the report that 50pc of workers on the project will have been previously unemployed appeared to be "an optimistic assumption".

The county board's chairman, Ger Lane, declined to comment beyond saying: "We are driving on anyway. The stadium isn't in doubt. That is for sure. It will be built."

The Cork County Board released this statement today: "Cork County Board wishes to clarify a number of issues arising from a story on the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh published in today’s Irish Independent.

"No State monies have been withheld from the project and no drawdown of monies has been requested by Cork County Board.

"An initial Cost Benefit Analysis draft on the project was submitted in December 2014 and is the subject of ongoing dialogue with the relevant officials in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

"It is entirely appropriate and is the norm that any case being made for the expenditure of public monies would be subject to rigorous examination. Cork County Board is fully engaged with the Department in that process.

"The Board is confident that the basis of the business case for the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh is correct and will be pleased to provide any further information or clarification requested by the Department as part of the process now underway."

Irish Independent

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