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£1.4bn to be spent on Northern Ireland infrastructure projects

The government will spend over £1.4 billion this year on infrastructure projects in Northern Ireland, the Finance Minister said today.

A dramatic increase in investment has seen road improvements, hospitals, waste water treatment plants and schools benefit, Nigel Dodds added.

His response followed calls from the construction industry for more cash.

Mr Dodds said: "This (£1.4 billion) represents a dramatic increase in expenditure which has only been achievable by the devolved administration recognising the importance of investment in infrastructure and working with the construction industry to deliver."

In 2003 government spending was £676 million.

The Construction Employers' Federation (CEF) has called for extra public money for building to help recovery from the recession.

Mr Dodds added: "We all feel the impact of this downturn in some way whether it be family members losing their jobs, falling house prices or difficulties in accessing mortgage funding.

"However, I believe that whilst the private housing market is experiencing real difficulties, the local construction industry has benefited significantly from investment by the public sector, which has been continuously increasing."

The number of unemployed construction workers in Northern Ireland is expected to top 30,000 by the summer, the Construction Employers' Federation (CEF) has claimed.

Firms are shedding up to 2,000 jobs every month as housebuilding grinds to a virtual halt, it warned.

CEF managing director John Armstrong has written to the First and Deputy First Ministers to ask for urgent investment in schools and hospitals.

He wants Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness to inject more funds into the building and maintenance of schools, social housing and hospitals.

He said the Executive should meet Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Chancellor Alistair Darling to ensure Northern Ireland is included in Government plans for "huge" investment in infrastructure.

And Mr Armstrong called for pressure to be put on banks to inject money into the economy by easing access to mortgages.

Senior civil servants in the Department for Regional Development have also highlighted the impact of the budget on the roads maintenance programme.

Belfast Telegraph