Belfast Telegraph

Brexit and priorities of SF bring project to a screeching halt

By Wesley Johnston

In Northern Ireland, junctions don't come bigger than this one.

York Street interchange is the meeting point of our first, second and third busiest roads - the M2, M3 and Westlink.

About 100,000 vehicles pass through it every day and yet they meet at a set of traffic lights on York Street.

TransportNI has been working on the problem for 10 years.

In 2012 a preferred design was announced, using underpasses and flyovers to create free-flowing links between all three roads.

This time last year the scheme appeared to be TransportNI's highest priority, breezing through the legal processes at an impressive pace with a public inquiry in November 2015 and going out to tender shortly afterwards.

Earlier this year the official line was that construction would be underway by late 2017, a mere year from now. You could practically hear the bulldozers getting ready.

And yet now we have heard that the tender process is "on hold" and the scheme seems to have screeched to a halt.

So what has happened?

Firstly, Brexit. York Street Interchange is part of Euroroute E01 and hence qualifies for EU funding of up to 40%.

Given that the scheme is estimated to cost up to £165m, this is a substantial amount of money.

The UK's vote to leave the European Union in June means that this money could potentially be lost, meaning the cost to the Northern Ireland Executive is suddenly much higher. This alone would be enough to put the brakes on the tender process.

But there is also the new Infrastructure Minister, Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard, who took over responsibility for roads from the DUP's Michelle McIlveen in May of this year.

Mr Hazzard has been very clear that his priorities lie in the North West.

In an interview by Chris McCullough in the Belfast Telegraph on October 10 he said: "Addressing a long-running infrastructure imbalance west of the Bann is an issue I have been clear I am determined to address".

It seems that the minister is determined to use his tenure to allocate as much funding as possible towards schemes on the A5 and A6 in line with his stated priorities.

Brexit makes delaying York Street easier to 'sell'.

I don't think York Street will be cancelled - it will likely go ahead, but on a longer timeframe. But it looks as if those 100,000 drivers will have to wait longer.

  • Wesley Johnston is a commentator and researcher on Northern Ireland Roads website

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