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Pothole bill could top £1bn

Minister accused of running DRD on a 'wing and a prayer'

By Noel McAdam

The cost of repairing Northern Ireland's ruptured roads could soon exceed £1bn, MLAs have been warned.

An Assembly committee was told even the bill for the current backlog in repairs is already around £800m.

And senior department of regional development (DRD) official Andrew Murray warned: "If we don't get significant in-year money for 2015/16, it will probably exceed £1bn."

Another official, John McNeill, told MLAs that DRD hoped to secure £95m for structural maintenance, including resurfacing - but that will be "considerably short of the £130m" needed annually.

It also emerged that complaints about potholes are piling up on roads minister Danny Kennedy - even when he goes to church, at Bessbrook Presbyterian in south Armagh.

The revelation came as the Regional Development chief was accused of running his department on "wing and a prayer" economics.

Mr Kennedy said: "The challenge is unfortunately there are more defects in the road network than we can actually address, we simply don't have the money to address them. Even in my place of worship people will come up and say, 'I know it is not the time or place but there's a pothole' - and I am sure other elected representatives face the same."

Mr Kennedy came under severe attack as he appeared before the Stormont committee which monitors the department on a range of controversial issues.

Committee member David McNarry told the minister his department was a "shambles" - but the Ulster Unionist minister accused him of "soundbites" and not making any sense.

In relation to Translink, which the Department oversees, Ukip MLA Mr McNarry asked "how long are you going to put up with this loss-making company?"

Mr Kennedy countered: "Would you advocate that the public transport system would go to the wall?

"We can have soundbites, you can make allegations and call on me to resign, that's not going to solve the issues before us," he said.

And Mr McNarry, a former UUP MLA, hit back: "Far from it minister, because you're not solving anything at Translink."

DRD Permanent Secretary Peter May said the department would normally receive around £6m from car-parking revenue, but with the transfer of off-street parking to local councils, this revenue would be lost.

And he added it was likely DRD will overspend by around £13m this year, because of the delivery of services such as winter gritting.

Factfile

The Department of Regional Development says it has been independently established around £133m is needed annually to maintain Northern Ireland's road network. But over the years, allocations have not been sufficient to carry out all the required maintenance works. DRD says at the end of last year the backlog stood at some £890m.

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