Massive bus cull on way: 13 towns to lose all local bus services, Metro services will be less frequent
Towns and cities across Northern Ireland are set to have their local bus services devastated as cost-cutting measures hit public transport.
The Belfast Telegraph can reveal that one city and 13 towns will completely lose their urban bus services next year, while a further seven will see their services slashed if draft budget proposals are approved.
The Department for Regional Development has also admitted it is in the process of selling off some of its car parks in a bid to meet drastic savings it has been asked to plan for.
It has also proposed raising the cost of public transport, disconnecting street lights and halting repairs to rural roads, while gritting and snow ploughing of all roads may need to stop next winter.
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy has been ordered to make savings of £65m in total following the toughest budget Stormont has ever seen, unveiled by Finance Minister Simon Hamilton last month.
In DRD's plan to attempt to meet the savings, the department may also be forced to shed 300 jobs.
The DRD draft budget paper says that service reductions will be made to public transport across Northern Ireland, focusing on the least profitable routes, including the complete withdrawal of internal services from some towns.
Ukip MLA David McNarry said he was very concerned about cuts to public transport and pressed officials to name which towns were on the "hit list".
He said the public deserved to know how their towns will be impacted by service cuts.
Under further questioning from Mr McNarry, officials also revealed that some DRD car parks were currently being sold off.
They told the committee in response to being asked which car parks were being sold: "We don't know but some are close to sale."
Davy McMurray of the Unite union said the DRD plans would have a significant impact on the quality of life for the poorest sections of our society. "They will also discourage the uptake of public transport, increasing reliance on more environmentally damaging forms of transport," he said.
"Proposals to cut 'uneconomic' runs will impact dramatically on rural communities - in particular the elderly and families without a car.
It will have a massive adverse impact on isolated households in rural and peripheral areas where service hubs are often only accessible by public transport."
Meanwhile, a number of other Stormont departments unveiled their draft budget proposals yesterday.
The Department for Social Development revealed that 650 jobs were under threat, but said 300 new posts would be required to take forward welfare reform.
It warned that the overall reductions "will impact services and lead to increases in claims clearance times as well as the processing of change of circumstances".
More starkly, the department said fewer staff could mean "financial accuracy rates will also reduce and this could lead to increased rates of fraud and error and debt".
The Department of Justice said 400 Civil Service jobs may be lost there.
The drafts budgets released this week are currently undergoing a public consultation process. Stormont is set to agree a final budget for 2015/16 early next year.
Proposed cuts to public transport services
One city - Armagh - and 13 towns, Ballyclare, Ballynahinch, Banbridge, Carrickfergus, Cookstown, Downpatrick, Enniskillen, Limavady, Magherafelt, Newcastle, Newtownabbey, Omagh and Strabane will see their town bus services withdrawn
No more overnight bus services between Belfast and Dublin airport, and reduced frequency of day services
50% less stops on longer Goldliner routes
Withdrawal of some Ulsterbus links from small rural villages to larger towns
Metro services on corridors one and seven in Belfast reduced in frequency
Train services across the network will be reduced, particularly between Portadown and Newry, and between Whitehead and Larne
Additionally, there will be service reductions in Antrim, Ballymena, Bangor, Dungannon, Lurgan, Portadown and Newry.