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Giant schools scheme woos three consortia

CONTRACTS - BELFAST

THREE consortia are set to bid for a massive £500 million education deal in Northern Ireland.

Amey and Northwin (Bilfinger Berger/Graham) are definite contenders for the work, which is likely to follow a contract model similar to Private Finance Initiative schemes.

Belfast Education and Library Board first advertised the scheme in May, when a third mystery consortium also threw its hat into the ring. Industry sources claim the group may be an alliance between Scottish and US firms.

But additional plans to include an £11 million leisure complex meant the deal had to be re-advertised last month.A reworded project description left the way open for other schemes to be included through partnerships with other authorities.

A project source said: 'We'd like the leisure complex to be included in the first £135 million package but the timescales may mean this isn't possible.'

Five consortia have shown interest but, according to sources close to the scheme, it is unlikely any more than three will submit pre-qualification documents. Only two or three consortia would be invited to bid.

Major players including Interserve and Jarvis are expected to shun the deal in favour of smaller Northern Ireland projects.

The deal will modernise the entire estate controlled by the authority, which includes 17 nursery schools, 45 primary schools, 10 secondary schools and 11 special needs schools. More than 20 libraries and 37 youth clubs will also be covered.

The first tranche will be given exclusively to a single consortium, while subsequent phases will depend on performance and may be put out to tender.

Of the 10 projects likely to be included within the first phase, nine will use a traditional PFI approach.The final deal will not require private funding, although the operation and maintenance of the buildings will remain with the private sector partner. A final shortlist is due in early December.

jon. fletcher@construct. emap. com