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York Street Interchange: Executive 'cannot apply for EU funding' for on hold £165m road scheme until 2018

By John Mulgrew

Published 20/10/2016

Heavy traffic on the M2 heading into Belfast, towards its intersection with the M3 and Westlink
Heavy traffic on the M2 heading into Belfast, towards its intersection with the M3 and Westlink

The on hold £165m York Street interchange scheme may not be able to apply for crucial EU funding until 2018, it's been announced.

The interchange was intended to solve the Belfast's increasing traffic problems.

It aimed to transform traffic flow where the Westlink, M2 and M3 converge.

And the bulk of the cash needed to build it, around 40%, was due to come from the EU.

There are now fears Belfast traffic will get worse, as other major road projects, such as the A6, make getting to the city easier. Last night, the news was branded a "disaster" for Northern Ireland.

Now, Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard has said the next call for EU funding is early 2018 and “as a result, the funding stream for this project goes beyond the time frame set by the chancellor”.

That could mean EU funding is no longer an option for the huge scheme.

“As is already on record, the Executive has set out four flagship infrastructure projects which will benefit people across the region. These include the Belfast Hub and Belfast Rapid Transit projects, as well as the A5 and A6.

“There are of course other significant capital projects like York Street Interchange and I and my Executive colleagues fully recognise the importance of these projects and their impact for local people.

“However, the reality is that progress on all of these will be determined by the scale of resources available from the forthcoming budget process.”

Earlier this week this newspaper reported that Belfast is now the third most congested city in the UK.

The upgrade of the York Street Interchange aims to tackle the traffic gridlock which occurs daily.

As Northern Ireland's busiest junction, it carries 100,000 vehicles daily, mostly commuters to and from Belfast from around Co Antrim.

A tender for the project is valued at £100m, but it is thought the entire scheme could cost up to £165m.

Mr Hazzard said: “In the case of York Street, while it is a project that could have attracted up to 40% EU funding, there would still be a 60% gap to make up.

“My department has of course been pursuing European funding for York Street Interchange through the Connecting Europe Facility.

"Unlike structural funds, this is a highly competitive funding programme with member states required to submit applications as part of a formal bidding process.

"This is implemented by a series of calls for funding. The next call for major projects is anticipated for early 2018. As a result, the funding stream for this project goes beyond the timeframe set by the chancellor.

“To clarify the position on procurement of the York Street project specifically, the bidding exercise has now been extended so procurement decisions can be made in line with future funding allocations.”

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