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Bumpy ride as cash crisis affects roads

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Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon

Northern Ireland's roads network needs a new £10m injection this year just to stand still, a senior industry figure has warned.

But the Stormont department responsible has next to no additional cash to maintain roads surfaces.

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon - whose department also covers Translink and NI Water - is facing an overall shortfall of almost £240m in her budget due to other priorities and the costs of Covid-19.

Translink's loss in sales since the virus crisis began is estimated at up to £130m and the loss of income to NI Water is some £30m, with a further £80,000 as a result of the decision to defer water bills.

Ms Mallon, whose department also received no extra cash for Covid, said: "We are in a really difficult position.

"It was a shock to the system not to receive an allocation under the Covid-19 bill."

But she told the Assembly committee which monitors her department: "People do not have confidence in an Executive if their roads are filled with potholes and their street lighting is not working."

Gordon Best, regional director of the NI Mineral Products Association, warned: "It will probably need another injection of £10m in another rural roads initiative before the end of the year."

The association represents 82 companies in the province with around 5,000 employees - 80% of whom have been furloughed over recent months.

"Roads will always come behind health and education, we have to accept that, however, we need to look after the network. It's as simple as that," Mr Best added.

Of the total of 27,000km of roads here, 25,000km is deemed to be rural.

But if maintenance turns into reconstruction it will cost five or six times more, said Mr Best. Ms Mallon's department received £30m in the June monitoring round, where cash unspent by some departments is redistributed, but none appears earmarked for roads.

Overall the department bid for £795m but received £558m.

Belfast Telegraph