£75m Northern Ireland roads budget raises hope of action on potholes
Drivers' frustrations over pothole damage may soon be eased after the biggest budget in seven years for road maintenance in Northern Ireland was announced.
Peter May, the permanent secretary at the Department for Infrastructure, revealed a starting budget of £75m for road service funding in 2018/19 - £33m more than last year.
It is hoped the increase will cover the estimated £3-4m worth of pothole damage caused by the recent cold snap.
The figure is the highest allocated to the roads maintenance since 2011.
The news was welcomed by the Quarry Products Association NI (QPANI), which represents the majority of construction material suppliers in Northern Ireland.
It said the focus should now be on identifying and planning repair schemes. QPANI regional director Gordon Best, added: "I am sure the vast majority of the travelling public in Northern Ireland, users of public transport, cyclists and motorists will warmly welcome this announcement and significant uplift in funding.
"This is the highest starting level of maintenance funding since 2011.
"The priority now must be to get road maintenance schemes identified, planned and delivered on the ground over the next six or seven months, so that work takes place during the longest days, with better weather ensuring better quality, improved safety for the road user and road worker and, importantly, ensuring better value for money."
Northern Ireland's road network is currently valued at £35bn and is considered the largest and most valuable asset that the public sector manages.
The department's own statistics show an underspend of £1bn for maintaining roads, while an independent study in 2010 recommended an annual structural maintenance funding level of £112m to keep the road network at a safe and quality standard. That level now stands at £140m, according to QPANI.
The deficit also cost the department £500,000 in payouts last year alone to almost 2,000 motorists whose vehicles were damaged by poor quality roads and potholes.
A spokesperson for the department said £15m of the budget, which will be available from April 1, would be "set aside for a roads recovery fund, which will address areas of immediate need across the road network".
Extra funding could be added to the allocated figure in the future.
The spokesperson continued: "Each year, monitoring rounds determine whether additional funding is available, and it will be some months before the first of these takes place."
The department came under fire recently when road maintenance workers warned of 200 job losses during what is usually the busiest period for the roads servicing sector.
In February, two contractors told the Belfast Telegraph that without additional funding workers would be let go and roads would fail to be repaired, but the latest announcement could be the good news the sector has been waiting for.
Mr Best said: "The announcement by Mr May is good news for everyone and our economy.
"The QPANI is now calling for a long-term commitment by the departments of finance and infrastructure to longer-term, adequately funded maintenance budgets that will ensure that our existing infrastructure is looked after and adequately maintained."