Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has outlined the challenges facing her resource budget, as she sets out her plans to support communities through recovery, while promoting economic growth and transformation through capital spend.
In a statement to the Assembly today, Minister Mallon confirmed her department needs much more on resource to support the public transport network and NI Water.
The Minister however on the capital side, outlined an ambitious programme of investment including a £20m fund for blue/green infrastructure as well as funding for road safety measures, street lights and potholes. Her announcements include the creation of a transformation pot with support for greenways and £30m for low emission buses, crucial investment in flagship projects and strategic roads across the north, a rural roads pot, 100 schools to benefit from 20mph speed limits scheme and funding to get phase 3 of the Derry – Coleraine line back on track.
Minister Mallon said: “It is no secret that the Department for Infrastructure is facing real pressures in its resource budget. While I’ve been able to allocate my budget to support services, serious gaps remain for our public transport network and NI Water. The financial climate remains difficult, significantly compounded by the Covid-19 crisis, but I am committed to seizing the opportunities to enable a greener, cleaner, recovery towards a new and better normal for all of us. The decisions I have taken are to ensure DfI plays its part in responding to this crisis and enabling our safe and speedy recovery from it to a new way of living and working. This, of course, requires our communities to have a public transport system and a 21st-century water and wastewater network to serve the growing population and allow for economic growth. It is vital in the months ahead that funding is secured for these essential services, that are not only critical to our everyday lives but to our economic recovery, supporting our schools, businesses and communities and I will continue to work with Executive colleagues to ensure these vital needs are met.
“In the weeks ahead we will also see more and more people return to work, businesses reopen and our towns and cities and our roads becoming busier. As we look towards this recovery phase our infrastructure is key and I have carefully considered how to balance maintaining and investing in existing infrastructure assets with investing in new projects and infrastructure that support the new way we are living. We have to think differently. We have to be bold. We have to seize our chance for change.
“In announcing these key projects, I want to be transparent and honest with the public about the challenges, but also about the opportunities. While I continue to support the fight back against Covid-19 in cooperation with colleagues, my department has also looked at new ways to invest that can deliver the transformation our communities need.
“The £20m funding for blue/green infrastructure will support our communities through this transformation, promoting active travel and shaping our places to live in the new normal. This funding will be community-led and departmentally supported. In partnership, we can ensure lasting change for people across the north.
“I am also maintaining the level of investment in structural maintenance, to ensure we get the basics done. With a £10m pot for rural roads, I want to make sure that citizens, no matter where they live, are not left behind. I have also approved the continuation of works on all flagship projects as well as a number of other strategic road improvement schemes, this investment is key not only to employment across Northern Ireland but also to kick start our economic recovery.
“And transformation won’t stop there, funding will be made available for greenways, low emission buses, park and ride sites and road safety measures, including funding to roll out the 20mph speed limit scheme to some 100 schools across the north.
“As we look forward with hope and Northern Ireland looks to get back on track, I’ve ensured that my commitment to addressing regional imbalance is realised by getting the Derry-Coleraine Phase 3 rail line back on track too.
“There are very real challenges facing all departments, none greater than the battle of covid-19, which is why my priority will always be supporting my colleagues and communities to protect public health and ultimately save lives. However, as we look to the future, we need to plan. We need to have new ideas and we need to really engage our communities in building that better future. While my budget is a mixed bag, of pressures and progress, I firmly believe it is a stepping stone to recovery. Working together we must be ambitious. I know there is an appetite for change and I look forward to the continued support of all of my Assembly colleagues in delivering these very important projects that will enhance all of our lives as we focus on planning for recovery and a new and better-shared future.”