Thu 27th Oct 2016
Nov 2016: Infrastructure spend is a priority for growth
View from the Chair
Nick Coburn, President, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Those of us with long enough memories will recall fondly, or maybe not so fondly, how long it took to travel the rocky road to Dublin. It was about a 4 hours journey, through Banbridge, Newry, Dundalk, Drogheda, Castlebellingham, Julianstown and other small towns, each one gridlocked and a frustration for the driver.
Of course that is all changed now, for the better. Belfast to Dublin is mainly motorway and can be covered safely, and comfortably, in two hours. That change happened piece by piece initially with bypasses at Dundalk, then Newry and finally with the motorway which now runs almost the whole journey. Each bypass was a product of European funding and each represented an important step on the road to Ireland, north and south, having a modern day roads infrastructure.
The importance of having a fit for purpose roads system cannot be overestimated. Physical infrastructure is the bedrock of economic development; accessibility for our goods and to our customers depends on it and we should acknowledge that it is not only the motorway to Dublin which has been enhanced in recent decades, in fact a lot of progress has been made.
There is more roads investment in the pipeline with Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard setting out his stall very early in his tenure and declaring that the A5 and A6 will be priorities, in a bid to address ‘historical underfunding’ in the north west. However, the busiest junction in the region is Belfast’s York Street interchange and that is mired in a funding related delay and was the focus for unwelcome negative attention in recent days.
It is imperative that whatever steps can be taken to ensure this project goes ahead are taken. This may be the first real stress test for Northern Ireland’s funding purgatory following the UK referendum on leaving the EU and Chris Hazzard has stated clearly that Brexit is to blame.
Finance Minister Máirtin Ó’Muilleoir joined with Welsh and Scottish counterparts last week in writing to the Chancellor seeking new funds for increased investment. If that route is successful then the York Street interchange upgrade should be at the top of the priority list. It would, at least, put us on the road again to having infrastructure in place to assist business in transporting their goods efficiently and without delay and in the process grow the local economy.