A fresh planning application has been submitted for the first phase of construction at the new emergency services training centre near Cookstown.
The original plans for a joint NI Fire and Rescue, PSNI and NI Prison Service site at Desertcreat were first approved in 2005 but the ambitious project has suffered repeated setbacks.
The latest planning application relates only to a multi-million pound NIFRS ’Community Safety College’ – described as including “a fire station, teaching accommodation, multi-purpose training warehouse, hot-house, swift water and skid-pan facilities”.
Originally due for completion in 2008, the postponed project was resurrected with a further planning application in July 2012 – with approval granted in January 2013. At that time the work was expected to be completed by 2015.
In March 2015, the NI Police Federation chairman Mark Lindsay said some of the money earmarked for police training at Desertcreat should be diverted to upgrade the existing facility at Garnerville in Belfast.
He said: “It was a grand scheme, conceived at a time when there was no talk of swingeing cutbacks or drastic reductions in recruitment. Now, in the harsh reality of belt tightening, there’s little or no justification for the Cookstown project.”
The then Mid Ulster MLA Martin McGuinness said in March 2016 that he was “very disappointed to learn there was opposition within the PSNI to moving their part of the operation to Desertcreat”.
Commenting on new NIFRS planning application the chair of Mid Ulster District Council, councillor Trevor Wilson, said: “This is very welcome news for the site at Desertcreat and, subject to planning being granted, for the local economy of Mid Ulster.
“While we had aspired to see a multi-agency college established in Cookstown, this nonetheless represents a substantial investment by the Fire Service and is the first step in a two-stage development process which will meet the long-term training needs of the service.”
In a statement to the News Letter on Monday, Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said: “The multi-agency Programme Board will continue to explore and bring forward options for joint training and collaborative working.
“The Police Service of Northern Ireland is currently exploring a number of options around the future of our training facilities which will involve the upgrading and refurbishment of our existing estate.”