Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: York Street road scheme delay just the latest farce

Editor's Viewpoint

The further delay in a major road improvement scheme at York Street in Belfast will be a disappointment to both ordinary motorists and the freight operators using the Port of Belfast.

A judge has ruled that the procurement process for appointing a contractor was flawed and another court hearing will be held next month to decide on the way forward.

The York Street junction where the Westlink, M2 and M3 meet is a notorious bottleneck and the ambitious plan, which involves an underpass and a new bridge, is designed to ease traffic flow.

This would benefit commuters, but also the hauliers who use the nearby port, giving them easier access to the strategic road network.

The matter went to court when two companies, operating as a joint venture, failed to win the tender for the job and sought a legal remedy.

The project, estimated to cost between £130m and £165m, was given the green light in November 2016 when the then Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard accepted the outcome of a public inquiry held 12 months earlier.

At the time the minister said the scheme could progress to readiness pending funding becoming available. Funding was found as part of the £1bn windfall secured by the DUP in its 'confidence and supply' arrangement with Theresa May's Government.

While yesterday's court ruling differs from one earlier this year which said that civil servants did not have the power to go ahead with a huge incinerator project - essentially that was a project requiring ministerial approval - there will be anxiety within the Department for Infrastructure over this latest decision.

What happens next will depend on what September's court hearing rules, but it does point up the difficulties that the lack of a functioning devolved government creates.

Ministers, albeit on the advice of senior civil servants, are best placed to make major decisions and to ensure that adequate oversight of projects is established and maintained.

They are also answerable to the electorate, giving them further reason to progress projects satisfactorily.

As it stands, there is no one answerable for the flawed procurement process.

Further expense has been incurred and further delay is inevitable - and a vital piece of infrastructure remains on the drawing board. It is intolerable we continue to lurch from one problem to another.

Belfast Telegraph

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