Infrastructure and transport report

Infrastructure: A foundation for better communities

Minister for Infrastructure John O’Dowd MLA outlines his priorities in the delivery of a connected economy.

I believe that infrastructure is the starting point for a more prosperous and productive economy; it is an economic driver and a social enabler. It must be safe, accessible, and inclusive.

I am putting plans in place which will deliver positive and transformative change for our communities. I have a number of decisions to take and I know there will be many challenges ahead but there are also big opportunities to get our infrastructure right.

Of course, this will require funding to address the decade of underfunding and austerity by the Tory government. Capital funding remains largely absent from the UK financial package and as an Executive we would welcome separate discussions on the Government’s commitment to major projects.

It has been widely known for years that my own department has been dealing with this shortfall which is seen daily on our roads and the development of water infrastructure.

Since I came into office, I have announced an additional £9.1 million for road maintenance to deal with potholes and resurfacing.

The Climate Change (Northern Ireland) Act 2022 places significant obligations on all departments. In the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) we are focused on transport decarbonisation and a modal shift towards active and sustainable travel removing traffic congestion from our cities, towns, and villages.

We will support local councils to develop transport plans that consider how to allocate road space in our urban areas to enable high quality public transport and active travel links and to help facilitate town centre and city centre living, a vibrant culture, and the development of a connected economy.

An effective planning system will support this work. Good progress has already been made here through the Planning Improvement Programme but this also needs to be properly resourced to become fully fit for purpose to deliver a collaborative, efficient, and timely service which will meet for local and regional needs.

Working with my department and others we are going to create a transport network that safely connects the island on a north-south and east-west basis. The Executive’s flagship project, the A5, will connect the north west with Dublin and all of the areas in between to also form a western transport axis, which will connect with the M1 and the M2, as well as the A1 between Belfast and Dublin. The €600 million from the Irish Government towards the scheme is very significant and most welcomed.

There is scope for future funding from the Irish Government and for collaboration in cross border projects such as our rail network and active travel such as greenways.

My department will continue to build on current engagement and collaboration with our colleagues in the South as we deliver positive change for people across our island.

Under the All Island Strategic Rail Review we have an opportunity to develop our rail networks to reconnect people and communities and deliver economic and social growth. Including electrification of rail services; strengthening Belfast-Dublin rail services; creating a new line to the International Airport; as well as new services between Belfast and the north west, via Portadown and Omagh.

This also offers an opportunity to continue to support the decarbonisation, through the use of hydrogen technologies and electrification based on renewable energy supply.

“Capital funding remains largely absent from the UK financial package and as an Executive we would welcome separate discussions on the Government’s commitment to major projects.” Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd MLA

Protecting our water courses, investing and developing our water and sewerage systems so that they are cleaner and greener, will play an important part in future proofing the environment. This will involve investment in technological solutions, as well as the development of nature-based water conservation and management. The more that we can live in harmony with our environment, the more we can grow in a sustainable way, supporting the development of more much needed housing supply.

My department will be working with NI Water and the Utility Regulator to assess the budget requirement for 2024/­25 and to consider the detail of this funding to assist with budget decisions and prioritisation.

We can shape a better future for everyone by decarbonising key services and investing in climate adaptation measures and support economic productivity through projects, policy and legislation.

Getting infrastructure right – and investing in it – can create the foundations for better rural and urban communities.

In other words, it all starts here.

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