New hospital 'state of the art'
The green light for a new multi-million pound children's hospital in Northern Ireland will see shocking conditions in the existing building replaced with a state-of-the-art facility, the Stormont Assembly has been told.
The construction project at the Royal Victoria Hospital site in Belfast was one of the main winners of a re-allocation of funding among Executive departments, triggered by delays to a number of major projects that had originally been earmarked for next year.
The proposal to replace the children's hospital is more than a decade old. Provisional estimates had put the cost at £160 million, but the Department of Health now believes the final bill will be £250 million.
Finance Minister Simon Hamilton announced that an initial £15.5 million had been allocated so building could start next year. The new hospital is anticipated to open in 2020/21.
Mr Hamilton said a recent visit to the existing children's hospital at the Royal Victoria highlighted the need for action.
"I was shocked by what I saw," he told the Assembly.
"Dedicated health professionals going beyond the call of duty to treat some extremely ill children, but doing so in surroundings that I'm ashamed to say are far from fit for purpose.
"Therefore, I am immensely pleased that this allocation enables the department to begin construction on a new Children's Hospital at the Royal Victoria Hospital site in Belfast - a new, state of the art, regional hospital to care for sick children from all over Northern Ireland."
The redistribution was required to share out a £177 million surplus created by anticipated projects not proceeding as planned in 2014/15, among them a £115 million spend on the upgrade of the A5 road.
While the A5 upgrade between Londonderry and Aughnacloy hit the skids after a successful legal challenge, other road projects are now set to go ahead with the funding that has been freed up.
Around £8 million will be spent on a five-mile stretch of the A26 Glarryford Road outside Ballymena, a further £30 million has been allocated to the ongoing upgrade of the A8 Belfast to Larne route and £13.6 million will be invested in the A31 Magherafelt bypass.
Around £1 million has been allocated for preparatory and design work on an upgrade of the Randalstown to Castledawson section of the A6 Belfast to Londonderry road.
The ongoing scheme by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) to upgrade the region's three main sporting stadiums in Belfast - Casement Park, Windsor Park and Ravenhill - has been given an additional £16 million.
The Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) has been handed almost £12 million to fund a new faculty block at the University of Ulster at Coleraine; redevelopment at Queen's University in Belfast; asbestos removal at Stranmillis College in Belfast; and a new-build further education college in Banbridge.
Mr Hamilton also outlined the outcome of the quarterly redistribution of unspent money from within this year's budget.
The October monitoring round will see £43.5 million re-allocated among departmental resource budgets, and £36.8 million on the capital side of expenditure.
The Department of Health also benefited from that exercise, receiving an additional £14 million in resource spend for delivering elective care - to add to the total £33 million it gained from the 2014/15 capital re-allocation.
The Department of Regional Development (DRD) received £41.2 million through the monitoring round and £75.2 million from the reallocation of next year's capital surplus.
As well as the road building schemes and continuing maintenance to the network, the department will also be able to replace the ferries sailing between Strangford and Portaferry in Co Down and servicing Rathlin island off the north coast.
In the monitoring exercise, the Department of Social Development (DSD) gained £5 million to bolster the over-subscribed co-ownership housing scheme, while the same was allocated to the Department of Agricultural and Regional Development (DARD) to pay compensation in cases of bovine TB.
DARD also received around £20 million in the 2014/15 capital reallocation to support the roll-out of a scheme to enable farmers to access super-fast broadband.
Mr Hamilton also announced a series of allocations from the Executive's Financial Transactions Capital fund, set aside to provide loans to private sector businesses.
Among the investments, DSD has been given £13 million to make available to housing associations seeking capital investment for social housing schemes.
The Health Department has been given £5 million that can be loaned to GPs and dentists looking to improve their practices.
Health Minister Edwin Poots welcomed the overall allocation to his department, particularly the new children's hospital.
"Children and young people have unique and specific medical requirements and this money will assist us in providing them with services that are fit for the 21st century," he said.
"A replacement Regional Children's Hospital is a major project that I have been keen to take forward, particularly as parts of the current facilities are nearly 100 years old. Securing this additional funding from the Executive provides me with the opportunity to move this much-needed project forward to ensure that our children will receive their care and treatment in a modern paediatric environment."
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy said the money he had received was a "significant funding boost".
"It is great news for the economy and for the local construction industry which has been hit hard by the economic recession," he said.
"Progressing major road schemes and carrying out road improvements sustains hundreds of jobs every year and ensures the travelling public enjoy safer and more enjoyable journeys."