An aborted project to redevelop Dundonald International Ice Bowl in east Belfast cost £1.5 million for preliminary work, an audit has found.
The bill was incurred when Castlereagh Borough Council entered a binding contract in 2013 with a lead designer and cost consultant without gaining consent from the new shadow council that was due to take over from it, the local government auditor said.
The successor local authority said it would not redevelop the ice rink and bowling alley and Castlereagh Borough Council agreed to cease work.
Auditor Louise Mason’s annual report said: “The project was ultimately aborted with a write-off of approximately £1.5 million to the general fund.
“This case highlights the importance of agreeing contract proposals with all relevant parties before significant preliminary costs are incurred.”
The Ice Bowl opened in 1986 and has hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
Castlereagh Borough Council wanted to overhaul the popular attraction but the project was challenged by the new shadow council as not having the necessary approval from it or a transition committee involved in the consolidation of local government structures.
In a September 2013 direction from the Department of the Environment, councils were told to seek written consent from the relevant statutory transition committee prior to entering into a capital contract where consideration exceeded £250,000. This consent was not obtained for the Ice Bowl project.
Council legal advice confirmed the local authority had entered into a binding contractual relationship with both the lead designer and cost consultant, at the latest by May 8 2013.
On October 24 2014, a final direction was received from the shadow council advising that it would not proceed with construction of the Ice Bowl.
Castlereagh Borough Council agreed at a special meeting on November 6 2014 to formally cease the redevelopment, and the money was written off.
Also highlighted in the local government annual report for 2016 was an attempt to defraud Derry City Council of a significant sum of money by amendment of a supplier’s bank details, through false representation.
The council subsequently recovered this money and has since strengthened the internal controls in place to mitigate against this risk.
The review revealed a slight increase in overall absenteeism during 2014-15 compared with the previous year. The latest figure is the highest overall rate since 2008/09.
All but one of the 11 councils fully met their performance improvement responsibilities.
One of the key recommendations was the need for all councils to have a conflict of interest policy.