NI needs to invest in infrastructure to reach its full potential
There are many issues that politicians and their party activists will be questioned on at the doors as they call looking for your vote over the coming weeks.
Cost of living, hospital waiting lists, underfunded schools, the NI Protocol and the impacts of Brexit, the economy.
Probably lower down the list is infrastructure, but it shouldn’t be because for any place to thrive the movement of goods and people is essential to economic success.
We live in a tiny part of the world, I was born in Belfast and will probably still live in the city when I finally check out, something I’m hoping is way off into the future.
But Belfast has notions even calling itself a city, it’s a large town at best.
The second city of Derry is again more of a large village, a place where the greatest asset is the people, friendly and welcoming they have endured and withstood a lot, the ancient walls a representation of that survival instinct.
I say this aware that I will feel the wrath of the citizens of both, but neither Lisburn or Newry are cities, and I say this as someone who visits both places fairy regularly.
They may hold that title but in comparison to other places on these island’s north/south or east/west they do not come close to reaching what you would expect from city status.
What they all share is a lack of forward planning that would make them attractive to investment.
One of the reasons Northern Ireland has never been economically viable, a place that relies on public sector jobs to survive, is partly because of our truly woeful infrastructure and transport system.
In the last seven days I’ve been to Belfast, Derry, Lisburn and London.
It’s unfair to compare the first three with one of the biggest cities in the world, but you can compare the failure to provide proper public transport.
Belfast’s International Airport — which isn’t in Belfast — has no rail link, I don’t think in all my travels I’ve ever been to a main airport with no train or tram link. It lacks ambition and unless you intend travelling no further than mainland Europe, it’s pretty useless, hence why so many people fly from Dublin instead. All that lost revenue and potential employment going south of the border with them.
Belfast City Airport — I refuse to call it after the footballer — is a handier spot for sure but again restrictive in where you can travel to and again no rail links.
Why would anyone invest in a place with such poor transport links and seemingly no ambition to do anything about it?
Leaving aside the enormous environment impact of living in a car reliant society it is part of the reason why we’ll never be able to shake off the sad shackles of the past and reach our full potential.
In the vast city of London, you can jump on and off the underground and cover almost every corner of the city for around £6 a day.
Public transport is used by everyone from smartly dressed office workers, to mothers with babies and giddy young people heading for a night out. All ages, all social backgrounds use the one method of transport in what is a great leveller.
That just doesn’t happen here, public transport instead almost carries a stigma.
I love my home and I love the people of my — at times dysfunctional — city of Belfast.
It has allowed me to raise a family and given me education and employment opportunities that I am grateful for every day of my life.
But it could be so much better, the docks and most of the path of the Lagan are wasted areas of land that could be put to much better use, creating employment and hospitality.
The chance to update the transport system to something economically and financially sustainable was squandered with the Glider, which is just a big bus and should have been a tram.
Rural communities relying on a sub-standard bus service that makes finding employment almost impossible for many.
Making this place better requires, bravery and creativity, it needs the city centres to be places where people live and work and socialise.
The Primark fire followed by the pandemic has gutted Belfast, people working from home removes the buzz and footfall that keeps businesses going.
I despair for the state of decline that it seems to be in, dirty streets and closed shops are not going to attract locals or tourists into town.
So, while there are many pressing issues that need addressed — and rightly question those who knock your door about what their plans are to fix them if elected — keep in mind that without proper transport none of those very import issues function.
You fix that one thing, and the rest will fall into place.