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Investment is 'long overdue' to fix crisis in Northern Ireland infrastructure

By Rachel Martin

Published 08/12/2015

More needs to be done: John Armstrong
More needs to be done: John Armstrong

Infrastructure in Northern Ireland could soon be at a crisis point if more money is not invested here, it's been claimed

Roads, railways, schools and factories are all in desperate need of significant investment, according to the Construction Employer's Federation (CEF).

Speaking at the CEF manifesto launch ahead of next year's Assembly election, MD John Armstrong said that while the construction industry welcomed the devolution of corporation tax, more needed to be done to attract top international firms.

Mr Armstrong said that a lack of houses, good roads, schools and hospitals would put off overseas companies from locating here.

The CEF has said that just 5,316 new homes were built here in 2014 - while around 11,000 are needed to meet demand. Earlier this year Mr Armstrong said that if unchecked, the current backlog would create a housing bubble.

And he said the lack of public spending on infrastructure was at a critical stage and added that a multi-year road maintenance budget needed to be agreed.

The federation estimates that at least £100m was needed annually for the next two years. Mr Armstrong said: "Current spending of around £30m means that the need becomes greater as a backlog of maintenance work builds.

"There are going to be restrictions on public spending money over the next couple of years. We are encouraging very clearly that the new local councils are able to use their borrowing powers to leer in additional monies and secondly we are very keen to support the new infrastructure investment fund which is being set up.

"It's critical, we see the first of the autumn winter floods are the implication of not keeping the roads up to the standard. That's going to be more of an issue going forward. We have a significant road infrastructure network and the more we let it slip, the more expensive it's going to be to rectify that in due course."

The manifesto aimed to lay out what the industry expected to see from politicians in the run up to the 2016 election.

Mr Armstrong added that politicians now needed to focus on delivery, and said the construction industry was "not in the position" for political games.

He said: "Northern Ireland's economy is beginning to show signs of recovery after a very long recession and we believe and always believed that the construction industry is fundamental to that economy's recovery, more so than any other sector."

Mr Armstrong said that changes to the planning process could combat the problem of a lack of new homes, and called for a new procurement body and a quarterly report on procurement.

"The planning system needs a joined up approach to the development control process," he said. "At the moment what happens is it applications are sent out to different consultees, but there is no joined up approach to that. What we're saying is each of those consultees should be sitting in the same room of the same building so that decisions can be made effectively but speedily."

Belfast Telegraph

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