Big plans but no money... the road schemes going nowhere
Northern Ireland's road infrastructure could "suffer badly" through tough cuts to the Executive budget, politicians have warned.
Fears were voiced last night after the Transport Minister Danny Kennedy unveiled a new route for an Enniskillen bypass - but admitted there were no funds to build it.
Mr Kennedy said the Department for Regional Development faced "real strain, financially".
Now concerns have been raised about a number of other key road projects being left in limbo - along with road maintenance services being affected - right across the country.
From 2011 to 2015 the Roads Service budget will be more than £1.1bn in total.
Around £900m of that is available to spend on new roads projects, essential structural maintenance, street lighting, local transport and safety measures.
Plans were revealed by Mr Kennedy yesterday for the new A4 Belfast Road to the Sligo Road which is expected to cost up to £30m. The plans are open for public consultation until the end of August, but there is no money to begin the project.
Mr Kennedy said he had to be "absolutely honest" about the current economic situation.
"I have to be absolutely honest and say, as of today, I do not have the money to fund the Enniskillen bypass," he said.
Starting dates for a number of other long awaited road schemes, including the A2 road widening scheme in Carrickfergus, will also be affected.
The minister said they there were "competing priorities" within the entire Executive.
"As regional development minister, it is my job to look strategically as to where we want to be in a number of years, not just to say we don't have any money, we can't do anything, but to look forward to the opportunities that are provided by a scheme of this nature," he said.
Dolores Kelly, SDLP MLA and member of the Regional Development Committee said the DRD took a "heavy hit" with cuts.
"This is the latest in a number of road projects that have been put on the long finger," she said.
"We all know good infrastructure is important in order to attract inward investment.
"Of course I will have concerns about the upkeep of the road infrastructure.
"The whole thing is in a sorry state and we need to seek assurances that the infrastructure won't suffer badly because of this."
Chair of the Regional Development Committee, Jimmy Spratt, said there needed to be "more transparency" on how the DRD budget is spent.
He added it came as "no surprise" the minister announced the lack of funds.
"These are tough economic times, and the run up to projects like these take around five years."
Tom Wilson, Head of Policy for the Northern Ireland Freight Transport Association, said: "Money is tight so it's no surprise that Mr Kennedy's plans for a bypass on the A4 at Enniskillen remain aspirational.
"However, this road is a major artery for movements from the west of Ireland but remains a congestion pinchpoint. There is no doubt that improvements would improve port connectivity, reduce congestion and help the movement of freight in Ireland."
The Roads Service Budget:
- 2011-12 - £155m
- 2012-13 - £257m
- 2013-14 - £385m
- 2014-15 - £279m
From 2011 to 2015 Roads Service budget will be over £1.1bn in total.
*Figures supplied by Department for Regional Development