Minister Chris Hazzard outlines his plan to unlock the region’s economic potential

Minister-Hazzard-Millenium-Way2One month into the job and newly appointed Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard is clear about his role in delivering a better future for all the people and how he will achieve it. 

My department has a major part to play in building a successful region by driving economic growth and tackling disadvantage, but it is also a vital component in the daily lives of all of our citizens providing vital services so important for quality of life. Investment in our transport and water infrastructure is a key driver for attracting investment and I intend to play my part in building economic growth for future generations.

The Executive’s Programme for Government framework is focussed on outcomes – outcomes that will create a prosperous economic future that will deliver for all our people. The sustainability and growth of our economy means having in place infrastructure that meets the needs of our people and our economy. We cannot grow if the infrastructure is not in place to support it.

Improving transport connections and building connectivity is vital. During this mandate, I want to ensure there is a focus on our strategic infrastructure needs for the next 20-30 years. What we do today impacts the next generation too so getting things right now is a priority.

High quality transport infrastructure is essential for a prosperous economy. It connects societies, provides efficient routes to market and ensures a sustainable natural environment. To keep pace in today’s increasingly globalised market place we must invest in our transport infrastructure. In this regard, my department is progressing a balanced programme of major road improvements.

I have already made clear that I am committed to the delivery of the A5 and A6. These are hugely significant projects and vital links in making the north an attractive place for those choosing to live, visit, work or invest. They will also address the infrastructure deficit west of the Bann, something I believe is long overdue. For both projects, I will be doing what I can to expedite delivery.

PEYE-250516KB2-0059Similarly, projects like Narrow Water Bridge and the Ulster Canal have the potential to deliver for local people living and working nearby. I will be working with the Dublin government to progress projects like these and others, were it is clear local people will benefit.

Of course, for many people living and working here, an efficient and effective public transport network and opportunities for active travel are a priority. These are issues I will also be working to progress with urgency.

Projects like the Belfast Rapid Transit and Transport Hubs in Belfast and Derry are exciting and innovative and offer real potential to deliver a modern public transport network to equal that of other modern cities.

These projects will help regenerate socially deprived areas by creating easier access to jobs, hospitals, education, and leisure facilities, while also integrating major redevelopment areas like Titanic Quarter into the city.

Creating a healthier society through active travel and the creation of greenways and other facilities is another Programme for Government outcome my department will lead on and I am keen to deliver.

My department’s current resource budget is £372.8m and the capital budget is £384.1m. Whilst the resource position is a challenging one, particularly in respect of providing an acceptable level of routine roads maintenance, the capital allocation enables me to make progress on all of these projects.

These, along with other vital infrastructure investment in water and other key investments will play an important role in the driving economic growth across the region and attracting further investment to benefit citizens now and improve the quality of life for future generations.   

I will continue to work with Executive colleagues to secure the maximum resources to continue improving transport connections and delivery of the necessary infrastructure to continue driving forward the economy and improving living standards for all of us.

As we look ahead and prepare for future generations, we need to be innovative and creative in our thinking. This month I will be visiting a major transport conference in Rotterdam. I am keen to see what lessons can be learned and what opportunities we can maximise to build connectivity across the region and create and infrastructure that unlocks economic potential and offers all the people better outcomes.

Following the recent restructuring of departments, for the first time the Infrastructure portfolio brings together not just planning and maintenance of our roads, rivers and water networks, but also road safety and vehicles testing and regulation as well as responsibility for significant issues like flood management. I think this is hugely important as we all work together to deliver for all of the people and there are undoubtedly opportunities to work better together.

The draft Programme for Government sets out a plan to build a better future for all. As an Executive, we are committed to working in partnership with wider society to make the biggest impact for all our people and I would encourage everyone to play a part and share their views.

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