Belfast Telegraph

Public services massacre: Cuts hit transport, water and roads, with rural areas worst off

By John Porter

People living in rural areas will be hit the hardest by cuts to Northern Ireland's transport network - and some may even be cut off.

Bus, rail, water and road services will all be massively affected as the Department for Regional Development (DRD) loses almost a fifth of its budget.

In its draft budget for the coming financial year, DRD outlined plans to deal with the £65m black hole it faces.

And with its agencies already running at a deficit - a situation usually addressed through the year - they are faced with an even bigger shortfall in funds.

Minister Danny Kennedy said significant reductions to front line services are "unavoidable". The budget plan, released yesterday for public consultation, outlines the depth of the cuts.

Translink, which is responsible for Metro, Ulsterbus and Northern Ireland Railways, faces a £15m cut. It warned of increased fares, service reductions and even bus and train withdrawals from towns.

Inevitably, the report pointed out, the services first in line to be dropped would be the least economically viable - in rural towns. Some towns could even see their bus services completely removed.

With 3,197 of the department's 4,000 staff working on the front line, Translink said any reduction in workforce would have a "significant adverse impact on service delivery".

NI Water is also faced with having to plug a £15m gap in its funding, should the budget be approved.

Its officials warned of more frequent interruptions to water supply, low pressure for households and emergency services after flooding being constrained.

The draft budget warned the slashed funding would have a "devastating impact" on water service provision to everyone.

NI Water said the impact of the measures would lead to failures to achieve environmental targets and meet other legal standards, reductions in essential services and a decrease in productivity.

Roads would be dealt the biggest blow in the budget with a predicted £40m cut.

Already street lighting repairs have been cut and in the coming financial year civil servants are warning that some street lighting might be turned off, roads - again in rural areas - could go unrepaired and the entire winter service, including gritting, dropped.

The DRD warned that the reduction in services would lead to fines from Europe, an increase in compensation claims and would affect the public's safety.

This could also have a knock-on impact on the health and justice departments.

Quotes

Danny Kennedy insisted yesterday he was not scaremongering and instead was "serving notice" of the pressures facing his department and urged the public to have their say. "The public will feel the pain," he said. Unite, the union said the public transport proposals targeted the poorest and most vulnerable in society.

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