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Upgrade to busiest Northern Ireland junction could be scuppered by Brexit

By Rebecca Black

Published 27/09/2016

Uncertainty: Chris Hazzard
Uncertainty: Chris Hazzard

Plans for Northern Ireland's busiest junction have been thrown into doubt because of Brexit.

South Antrim Ulster Unionist MLA, Steve Aiken, said the Executive should have been knocking on Westminster's door to emphasise the importance of the new York Street Interchange four months ago.

Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard said the major road project had been a strong contender for EU funding.

But now he is warning that, without "substantive guarantees of replacement funding from the Treasury", the Executive's capital budget will be put under pressure.

An upgrade of the York Street Interchange in Belfast- aimed at addressing the traffic gridlock which occurs daily at this busy junction - has been in the planning since 2009, was announced in 2015, and is expected to cost up to £165m.

A key portion of the funding - believed to be almost 40% - had been planned to come from the EU.

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

The upgrade is due to create an underpass and a new bridge, to ease congestion where the Westlink, M2 and M3 meet.

Work was due to begin later next year and was expected to be completed by the end of 2020.

In response to an Assembly Question asked by Mr Aiken, about what effect the UK leaving the European Union will have on the project, Mr Hazzard indicated it is now facing uncertainty. "The multi-annual nature of key infrastructure projects demand levels of financial certainty and, for a project such as the York Street Interchange - which would be expected to take three to four years to complete - the uncertainties created by leaving the EU do, of course, have serious implications," he said.

"I remain committed to doing all that I can to deliver York Street and other key projects within the current financial context, working with the Finance Minister and other Executive colleagues. I have also asked my officials to engage fully with the European Commission and to continue to pursue every opportunity to draw down EU funds for the benefit of the north."

Mr Aiken said EU funding is essential for the delivery of the upgrade, and that the Executive should have been lobbying Westminster for replacement funding months ago.

He warned that without an upgrade, the current bottle necks at the junction will worsen, further impacting on commuter and commercial traffic.

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