Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Northern Ireland must steer itself out of roads crisis

A new report has revealed the worrying fact that more than £1bn is needed to bring Northern Ireland's roads up to an acceptable standard, and that spending on the network is around £50m less per year than is needed
A new report has revealed the worrying fact that more than £1bn is needed to bring Northern Ireland's roads up to an acceptable standard, and that spending on the network is around £50m less per year than is needed

Editor's Viewpoint

A new report has revealed the worrying fact that more than £1bn is needed to bring Northern Ireland's roads up to an acceptable standard, and that spending on the network is around £50m less per year than is needed.

A report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office underlines that some £4m a year is being spent on personal injury claims as a result of our substandard road network, and £240,000 is being spent on dealing with damage claims.

The report reveals that while the condition of the trunk road network is "still relatively good", other roads continue to deteriorate at a faster rate because less money is being made available to maintain them to a similar standard.

This is hardly news to the many thousands of people who have to use the lesser roads, particularly in rural areas, and this is causing many of them inconvenience, as well as, in some cases, personal injury and damage to their vehicles.

The lack of funding for preventative maintenance has led to higher repair costs, and this does not seem a wise strategy. Surely more money on upkeep in advance would avoid more expenditure on repairs.

The standard of the network is a big factor in inward investment, and Angela McGowan, director of CBI Northern Ireland, has pointed to the important link between a good road infrastructure, higher productivity and economic growth.

She stresses that poorly-maintained roads lead to greater risks of accidents, more wear and tear on vehicles, and longer journey times for workers and goods delivery.

Ms McGowan also makes the important point about the negative impact of the absence of a Minister at Stormont to oversee the regional restructuring needs for our roads.

The problem illustrates, too, the huge competing financial pressures facing Northern Ireland, with so many other priorities including health, education and heritage, and the continued need to attract inward investment.

There seems no quick solution, particularly in a period of great uncertainty and worries about the outcome of Brexit.

One of the greatest uncertainties concerns a "hard or soft Border", but even if and when that is sorted out, we need to face the down to earth realities of the condition of our roads network.

People often talk about "the road ahead", but when the roads themselves are the problem, it is clear that, sadly, in many areas we seem to be still going nowhere.

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