A multi-million pound roads project aimed at easing traffic congestion in Belfast is facing a further hold-up after a High Court judge confirmed the contract award is to be set aside.
Department for Infrastructure officials may now re-run the procurement process for the York Street Interchange following the outcome of a legal challenge.
Mr Justice Maguire ruled: “The result of the set-aside will be that the matter will have to be reconsidered by the department.”
The road improvement scheme is designed to transform traffic flow at the intersection of the Westlink, M2 and M3 just to the north of the city centre – one of Northern Ireland’s busiest junctions.
With an estimated cost of between £130m and £165m, the project is expected to take around three years to complete.
It was to be funded through some of the £1bn spending package pledged to Northern Ireland under the DUP-Conservative Party Westminster pact, which was sealed in June 2017.
The department last year announced the process to appoint a contractor to the roads project had been completed.
But the tender award was delayed after a legal challenge was mounted by a BAM Civil Ltd and FP McCann Ltd, a joint venture which narrowly failed to win the contract.
In August the court held that the department’s decision making and evaluation processes had been legally flawed.
A further hearing on remedies then focused on what should happen next.
Lawyers for BAM-FP McCann contended a declaration should be made that it would be lawful for the department to award the York Street Interchange contract to the joint venture plaintiff.
Counsel representing the department resisted such an outcome, arguing that the matter should be left for his client’s reconsideration.
Declining to make the declaration sought by the plaintiff, Mr Justice Maguire said: “Such an order seems to the court to be unnecessary in a context where the court is setting aside the award of the contract, as in this case.”
The contract award is the function of the department, not the court, he added.
Unless the main judgment is appealed, the outcome raises the possibility of the procurement being re-run.
Turning to the issue of costs, the judge made an award against the department for 75% of the plaintiff’s fees in the case.