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‘Funding to deliver is key’ for NI infrastructure.

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‘Funding to deliver is key’ for NI infrastructure.

‘Funding to deliver is key’ for NI infrastructure.
February 07
17:23 2024

As the Chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly Infrastructure Committee and Northern Ireland’s Minister for Infrastructure outline their priorities, completion of a clear Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland should be at the top of their lists, writes David Keniry.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Deborah Erskine has said she is looking forward to delivering for people through her new role. On 6th February 2024, Erskine (DUP) was nominated as Chairperson of the Committee and John Stewart (UUP) was nominated as Deputy Chairperson of the Committee.

Following the nomination Erskine said, “Funding to deliver is key and today we debated in the chamber the need for increased finances for Northern Ireland. Proper funding is needed for increased connectivity such as the A5, A4 Southern Bypass and York Street Interchange to name a few priority projects. I am up for the challenge of delivery and will work constructively to deal on these issues and more.”

Speaking as he took up office at the Department for Infrastructure (DfI), the Minister for Infrastructure John O’Dowd said that while there were challenges to be faced, there were big opportunities too. 

John O’Dowd said: “Infrastructure is a word we are all familiar with but let’s think about what it really means. In very simple terms, it’s the roads, footpaths and cyclepaths, the buses, trains and ferries we travel on; it’s the water we drink, it shapes the places in which we live, work and enjoy – and so much more. 

“The services and policies delivered by DfI are critical to each and every one of us and often go unseen. However, the response to recent weather events and the deterioration in our roads due to years of under-investment, have brought the importance of the work we do into sharp focus.”

The Upper Bann MLA Sinn Féin’s has resumed the role of Minister for Infrastructure following the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly last week.

He added: “I know the strength within DfI is that it has a highly skilled workforce who have expertise in transport, planning and water matters.  Clearly, there are challenges – not least in addressing the effects of climate change – but there are big opportunities too because we have the knowledge and the expertise to not only deal with those challenges but to take forward projects and initiatives which will change things for the better.  There is a lot of work to be done in terms of improving the road and rail network, getting greenways in place, improving active travel, making sure we are prepared for floods, ensuring our planning system is working effectively.”

Erskine said she is looking forward to the challenge of delivering for people and getting to grips with the major issues affecting the Department for Infrastructure.

Already I have put questions to the Minister in terms of some of the major projects and issues I would like to see delivered. One being the A4 Southern Bypass in my own constituency.

I want to work to ensure our rural roads are upgraded, pot holes fixed, proper investment in our water and sewer treatment networks, key infrastructure projects are delivered, MOT testing and planning delays are reduced, as well as making sure our public transport is effective and efficient to meet the needs of our communities.

In recent months I have been in communication with the Department for Transport at Westminster regarding the All Island Strategic Rail Review which has not included Fermanagh and also I have asked about the implementation of the Union Connectivity Report which names major infrastructure need.

The Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland 2050 sets out a long-term view of strategic investment priorities for public infrastructure with funding mechanisms. The NI Executive approved the draft Investment Strategy (ISNI) in December 2021 and agreed a 12- week public consultation process which closed on 20th April 2022. 

In the Draft ISNI launched by then First Minister Paul Givan MLA and current First Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA it states that: ‘We recognise that the investment needed to achieve the outcomes set out in this strategy will require significantly greater capital and revenue funding than has previously been available. We will explore all possible sources of finance and develop and use innovative funding approaches where these are needed and appropriate.’

In May 2023, the NI Executive’s Strategic Investment Board (SIB) published the Draft ISNI 2050 Consultation Report which ‘recognised that the lack of multi-year funding creates detrimental effects from cyclicality and leaves little funding for the additional and necessary spend on transport and other commitments. However, more positively it was also noted that there is considerable potential to explore new mechanisms for funding and financing infrastructure.’

Respondents felt that the Investment Strategy should address the structures/skills and funding required to make sure there is an efficient and effective delivery mechanism.

Concerns were raised regarding the financial impacts of exiting the EU, specifically the loss of EU funding and whether that will be recovered from elsewhere. Exploration of the potential for alternative funding models was considered a priority as well as effective utilisation of Reinvestment and Reform Initiative (RRI) borrowing tied to a coherent strategy to ensure available money is spent and projects delivered.

The draft ISNI has been updated to address the issues raised through submissions. A final Investment Strategy will be prepared which will include: A 10-year investment plan that documents major projects aligned with the strategy; An analysis of the enablers which will facilitate infrastructure investment and delivery; and Explanation of how projects will be funded and setting out possible alternative financing opportunities.

As the business of government gets underway in Northern Ireland, public sector and private sector stakeholders will hope that the ISNI is completed and published asap with a clear pipeline that the infrastructure delivery sector can invest in, along with the All Island Strategic Rail Review. 

With a clear pipeline of projects and a functioning government a blend of pent-up public and private funding sources will be available to partner and meet the pent-up infrastructure challenges across Ulster and beyond.

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