THE leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Mike Nesbitt, has warned that the planned Peace and Reconciliation Centre at the Maze could lose hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.
Mr Nesbitt has been reported as saying that the controversial centre at the former prison was expected to attract more than 100,000 visitors annually. Despite this, he has said the centre will still be operating at a loss of some £650,000.
“In this day and age, when money is in such short supply, who on earth goes ahead with a project they know will not pay for itself?” he asked. “This is madness.
“I have consistently argued that while we need a peacebuilding centre, it should be at the site of the old Crumlin Road Gaol and Courthouse.
“Yet we sold the courthouse for a pound some years ago, and now we add insult to injury by asking the taxpayer to stump up what could end up as millions to keep a new facility afloat at the Maze,” he added.
However, Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson has said the funding for the centre will come from the Community Relations budget and will not be “new money.”
Mr Donaldson continued: “As far as I understand, the peace centre is not a private venture, it is a government funded organisation and I am told the funding will come from existing resources in the Community Relations budget and not from any additional funding that might be required.
“The plan is to locate agencies like the Community Relations Council in the peace centre so there will be significant cost savings from such transfers which have not yet been factored into the business plan.”
Mr Donaldson added: “It is important to make the distinction between the new peace centre and the retained buildings. The retained buildings are not an integral part of the peace centre and any recurrent funding will go into the new centre and not the retained buildings.”
A spokesperson for the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister said the centre should be self sufficient once it was up and running.
“It is the ministers’ intention that the centre will be fully sustainable when fully operational, however this will require initial investment,” she said.
The department expects 5,000 jobs to be created and £300 million private sector investment to be attracted to the Maze/Long Kesh site. The spokeswoman said the peace centre could support 70 jobs and generate approximately £1 million a year from visitor income and employment.
The OFMDFM spokeswoman said the business case prepared in 2010 anticipated the centre generating income after its start-up period, adding it was best practice to try and project what additional support may be required.Significant work is under way to develop the programme and income-generating aspects of the centre. “The level of departmental funding for the start-up period is fully justified by the contribution the centre will make and the services it will deliver both locally and internationally,” she said.
The build cost will be fully funded by EU Peace III money and possibly with additional Heritage Lottery money.