The European Investment Bank is to finance half the £305m cost of the University of Ulster’s new Belfast campus. Discussions are also taking place between the EIB – the European Union’s infrastructure investment bank – with finance minister Simon Hamilton on other possible projects.
Although a spokesman for the University of Ulster would only say that “discussions” are taking place with the EIB, the EIB itself issued a statement confirming that it is investing €175m, or £150m, into the Belfast project, which the EIB costs at £305m in total.
Previously the University has estimated the cost of building the new Belfast campus at £250m. The campus is being constructed in the area around York Street and Donegall Street, covering a 75,000 square metre footprint. The Department for Employment and Learning is contributing £16m to the cost of the project, which involves relocating academic courses and students from Jordanstown into the centre of Belfast.
A spokesman for the EIB said it has had “wide ranging” discussions with Northern Ireland’s Department of Finance and Personnel on other possible projects, but that the only definite investment so far is the Belfast campus.
The DfP’s spokeswoman confirmed that Simon Hamilton had met with the EIB, but denied rumours that the focus of the talks had been to finance an upgrade of the Belfast to Londonderry A6 road. She said: “The minister is keen to encourage external investment into Northern Ireland from bodies such as the European Investment Bank. He has already met with the Bank to discuss specific major investments here, although not the A6 road scheme.”
DfP and the Strategic Investment Board say that it is unattractive at present to borrow from the EIB because of the UK Government’s capital spending and borrowing rules. The DFP’s spokeswoman explained: “A direct loan from the Bank to the Executive would score as national borrowing and HM Treasury would reduce our Capital DEL [Departmental Expenditure Limit] budget accordingly. This means the Executive would in fact be worse off as it would have to pay interest on the European Investment Bank loan.”