Chris Hazzard: Why Northern Ireland has much to learn from China
Following his trip to the Far East last week, infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard explains how we can look to their model to improve our own public transport system
Building a sustainable infrastructure is central to growing the economic prospects of any region. Whether it's Belfast, Derry or Hubei in China, while the scale may be different, the issues are often the same.
China is the largest manufacturing economy and exporter of goods, and the world's fastest-growing consumer market.
It has been creative and innovative in its approach to many aspects of its growth, in particular its infrastructure.
Last week I met investors in the China Investment Corporation and Asian Infrastructure Bank. They have responded with interest to the flagship infrastructure projects set out by the Executive and other projects. They are keen to learn more and I hope they will soon take up my invitation to visit and see firsthand what the north has to offer.
For any modern city, creating a more sustainable transportation network is vital. While on a different scale, like Chinese cities, our economy and population have grown in recent years, as has the demand on our transport network. Too much of that demand has been met by higher levels of car use. That has resulted in congestion, poor air quality in localised areas and, for those without a car, increased difficulty accessing basic services and opportunities.
Learning more about how Chinese authorities have taken forward the design and delivery of more sustainable and integrated public transport systems has been very useful. These are outcomes set out in the Executive's draft Programme for Government and I will be reflecting on some of the innovative schemes used in China, to see what could be adapted for the north.
Over the next five years I will be looking at developing our sustainable transport system, with the Belfast Rapid Transit project and the development of a regional greenways strategy central to this. These projects have the potential to make a significant impact on how many of us travel day and daily, as well as encouraging a more active lifestyle.
Beijing's focus on sustainability and regional/local connectivity and development has been worthwhile, and I believe there are ideas here that we can adapt and use in our towns and cities.
I am determined to transform how people travel, to get more onto public transport and indeed walking and cycling. There simply is no alternative if we are to accommodate future economic and population growth in our urban areas. Indeed, when I return home, I intend to work with officials on a new policy initiative based on my experience here which I hope to launch in the new year.
Of course, like us, China's ports are a resource and economic driver which need support and development to maximise every opportunity. Shanghai is now home to the world's busiest container port. Much has been invested to enable it to develop, including the provision of an integrated transport system.
Our ports too play a crucial role by supporting key gateways to international trade and the wider global economy. This is something I am keen to develop and building links with the wider transport network is vital to this.
Developing our links with China is a priority for the Executive and, with a highly educated and skilled workforce, accessibility to European markets and a strong communications infrastructure among our assets, we have much to offer also, and this was something I highlighted.