Since inheriting the portfolio in May 2016, Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard has overseen a series of projects to enhance transport infrastructure across the North. agendaNi outlines some of the major announcements within the sector.
Subject to statutory procedure, two flagship transport infrastructure projects aimed at enhancing economic and tourism possibilities for their surrounding regions could potentially come under construction by 2019.
A meeting has been arranged in order to ascertain the preferred option for the Narrow Water Bridge project. The Minister asserted: “I am determined this is taken forward as a priority with a view to reaching early agreement and enabling construction to begin by 2019, subject to funding.” Hazzard has also instructed his department to progress with the planning and development of the corresponding Newry Southern Relief road in order to facilitate the introduction of Statutory Orders by 2019.
Likewise, he has outlined his commitment to collaborate with the Irish Government to complete the restoration of the Ulster Canal. “I am determined to do all I can to support this work with the aim of taking forward development and planning of sections beyond Castle Saunderson [on the Cavan/Fermanagh border] to allow construction to begin in 2019.”
After being selected as the preferred site of the new North West Integrated Transport Hub, Derry’s Waterside Railway Station has been purchased by Translink. A £26 million restoration project is expected to commence in 2018 with a target for completion set for 2020. Plans for the site incorporate park-and-ride facilities alongside a new platform, shops and a bicycle hire station.
Following the completion of an upgrade carried out on the Derry Railway Line, the Infrastructure Minister confirmed that an hourly train service between Belfast and Derry will be introduced by summer 2017. He noted: “With the substantive completion of the Derry-Coleraine railway line improvements, the last obstacle to the introduction of a more frequent service has been removed.”
Simultaneously, Hazzard has also requested that Translink ensure an increase in rail services between Newry and Belfast as part of an overall effort to enhance rail usage. “Increasing use of public transport is a key objective in the Programme for Government. That means we provide quality and frequency of services particularly between our major cities. This step will support that process.”
Public transport infrastructure
Enhanced measures have been proposed in an effort to deter drivers from illegally using and parking in Belfast bus lanes and clearways. A mobile CCTV vehicle has been deployed to enforce the restrictions placed on the usage of these thoroughfares. Simultaneously, the Department for Infrastructure intends to establish a vehicle removal and clamping operation later this year. Both measures are aimed at preventing obstruction and easing subsequent congestion of main arterial routes.
The Minister highlighted: “All it takes is one inconsiderate driver to leave their vehicle parked illegally in a bus lane or on a clearway for short period of time causing inconvenience to countless others. These illegally parked vehicles can cause delays and congestion for several hours, not only in the immediate location, but also in surrounding areas.”
The measures aim to:
• improve traffic flows;
• improve the reliability of times for public transport journeys;
• improve the journey time for general traffic;
• enhance the attractiveness of public transport as a journey option; and
• reduce congestion and associated air pollution.
Cycling and pedestrian infrastructure
Unveiling his Strategic Plan for Greenways, Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard outlined the development of 1,000km of such corridors.
Incorporating the local councils, the Minister increased funding for the associated grants scheme from £64,000 to £160,000. Funding was therefore available for up to 20 individual proposals across the 11 council districts. Each council, excluding Belfast City Council, is set to receive funding for one or more greenway schemes. The highest volume of funding (£32,000) was awarded to both Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon and Newry, Mourne and Down across four projects each.
The 400km of primary and 600km of secondary greenways covered under the plan are intended to connect cities and towns to surrounding villages and countryside and enable cyclists, walkers and runners to exploit disused railway lines, abandoned canal towpaths and riverside paths.
Hazzard stated: “One of my key priorities as outlined in the Programme for Government is to help transform how we travel by increasing the number of people walking, cycling and using public transport which will enhance the region as a place where people want to live and work, to visit and invest.”
Constructed by Arklow Marine Services, a new £2.8 million ferry will replace the ageing MV Canna vessel which operates between Ballycastle and Rathlin Island. The Spirit of Rathlin, which will come into service following the completion of a new £1 million harbour on Rathlin and the securing of Passenger Certificate from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, will operate alongside the MV Rathlin Express. Like its predecessor, the new ferry will be operated by Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd under a recently secured 10-year contract.
Minister Hazzard outlined: “The new ferry and future harbour development will be key to ensuring Rathlin’s continued sustainable growth. Investment in both will honour the commitment given in my Department’s recently published Rathlin Island Action Plan to improve the island’s infrastructure and ensure that the community continues to have access to necessary services.”
Meanwhile, the new Strangford ferry, commissioned in February 2015 and initially anticipated to be operational by October 2016 continues to be delayed amidst the findings of due diligence and commissioning checks carried out by the Department for Infrastructure. These noted that the vehicle ramps of the MV Strangford II required modification. The ferry is expected to enter service early in 2017, subject to obtaining a Passenger Certificate.
In the meantime, the MV Strangford will continue to provide services at 15 minute intervals.