26 January 2006

'Wreck-less'

Irelandclick

IT’S CLAIMED Belfast City Council IS to use city’s emergency funds for East Belfast attraction

Damian McCarney

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The prospective purchase of a so-called ‘mini-Titanic’ using money from the public purse has been branded a “reckless waste” by a Sinn Féin councillor.

The SS Nomadic, which was built in 1911 at the infamous Harland and Wolff yard, is being sought by Belfast Industrial Heritage (BIH) as a tourist attraction. The ship is up for auction today in France.

It is estimated that buying the ship will cost around £175,000 with transportation to Belfast from Le Havre costing a further £85,000 to £100,000.

BIH have received £40,000 in donations but require assistance from public money to meet the shortfall. At its January meeting the Council’s Development Committee agreed to draw £100,000 from City Hall reserve funds.

Sinn Féin’s Michael Browne has slammed the Council’s contribution.
“To my mind this represents a reckless waste of ratepayers’ money. Council reserves are there for contingency purposes and at this time are needed to offset the potentially severe financial impact on ratepayers that waste management costs will bring about.

“There are a whole range of implications stemming from our responsibility to meet waste management requirements. The Council have approached this in a sensible manner by putting this money aside. The question is, would the ratepayers want to see it used in a worthwhile manner, or squandered on the remnants of a rusting boat?”

And Cllr Browne harbours concern over future costs attached to the purchase of the ship.

BIH have already said that they will be seeking Lottery funding if they are successful in their bid for the Nomadic in order to assist with the huge renovation costs. The costs are estimated by BIH at between £3m and £10m.

“The reality,” said Cllr Browne, “is that buying the Nomadic is only part of the story. Having it transported to Belfast will cost a further £85,000. The question then for Council will be, what does it do with this vessel once it arrives in Belfast?”

A survey conducted by the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure (DCAL) estimates that the total cost of restoration will amount to £7 million while additional services such as mooring will add again to overall costs. Will Belfast ratepayers be expected to foot these bills?

“With no other body interested in a Nomadic restoration project it is now time that Belfast City Council abandons the idea. Sinn Féin will use the opportunity presented by the February meeting of the Council to block plans to spend Council money on this futile project.”

Chief of BIH, Kathleen Neill, expressed her surprise that a Sinn Féin councillor was objecting to the proposed purchase as she said that she had received support in the past from the party on Belfast Council. Ms Neill defended the proposed purchase believing that it can become a major tourist attraction.

“Anyone who says that it is a waste of money lacks vision. It will recoup the money in the long run, provided it is in the right hands,” said Ms Neill.


Journalist:: Damien McCarney

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