A long-delayed plan to build a new £160 million regional children’s hospital for Northern Ireland has been given the go-ahead by the Stormont Executive.
Finance Minister Simon Hamilton told the Assembly that £33 million would be allocated to the health department for capital projects next year - £15.5 million of which would be spent on the project on the Royal Victoria Hospital site in Belfast.
The hospital proposal is one of the main beneficiaries of a multi-million reallocation of capital funds across Executive departments, required as a consequence of delays to other major schemes, such as the troubled A5 carriageway project.
While the A5 upgrade between Londonderry and Aughnacloy hit the skids after a successful legal challenge, other road projects are now set to go ahead with the funding that has been freed up.
Around £8 million will be spent on a five-mile stretch of the A26 Glarryford Road outside Ballymena, a further £30 million has been allocated to the ongoing upgrade of the A8 Belfast to Larne route and £13.6 million will be invested in the A31 Magherafelt bypass.
Around £1 million has been allocated for preparatory and design work on an upgrade of the Randalstown to Castledawson section of the A6 Belfast to Londonderry road.
Mr Hamilton said: “The allocations I have announced today will leave a lasting economic impact on Northern Ireland, boost our economy as the recovery gathers momentum and provide assistance for vulnerable people in our society.”
Mr Hamilton announced the re-allocation of £177 million capital funding for 2014/15 - £115 million of which derived from the money that should have been spent on the A5 next year.
The minister also outlined the outcome of the quarterly redistribution of unspent money from within this year’s budget.
The October monitoring round will see £43.5 million re-allocated among departmental resource budgets, and £36.8 million on the capital side of expenditure.
The health department also benefited from that exercise, receiving an additional £14 million in resource spend for delivering elective care.
In regard to the 2014/15 capital redistribution, Mr Hamilton said a recent visit to the existing children’s hospital site at the Royal Victoria highlighted the need for a new facility.
“I was shocked by what I saw,” he said.
“Dedicated health professionals going beyond the call of duty to treat some extremely ill children, but doing so in surroundings that I’m ashamed to say are far from fit for purpose.
“Therefore, I am immensely pleased that this allocation enables the department to begin construction on a new Children’s Hospital at the Royal Victoria Hospital site in Belfast - a new, state of the art, regional hospital to care for sick children from all over Northern Ireland.”
The Department of Regional Development (DRD) has received £41.2 million through the monitoring round and £75.2 million from the reallocation of next year’s capital surplus.
As well as the road building schemes and continuing maintenance to the network, the department will also be able to replace the ferries sailing between Strangford and Portaferry in Co Down and servicing Rathlin island off the north coast.
In the monitoring exercise, the Department of Social Development (DSD) gained £5 million to bolster the over-subscribed co-ownership housing scheme, while the same was allocated to Agricultural and Regional Development (DARD) to pay compensation in cases of bovine TB.
DARD also received around £20 million in the 2014/15 capital reallocation to support the roll-out of a scheme to enable farmers to access superfast broadband.
Mr Hamilton also announced a series of allocations from the Executive’s Financial Transactions Capital fund, set aside to provide loans to private sector businesses.
Among the investments, DSD has been given £13 million to make available to housing associations seeking capital investment for social housing schemes.
The Health Department has been given £5 million that can be loaned to GPs and dentists looking to improve their practices.
Health minister Edwin Poots welcomed the overall allocation to his department, particularly the new children’s hospital.
“Children and young people have unique and specific medical requirements and this money will assist us in providing them with services that are fit for the 21st century,” he said.
“A replacement Regional Children’s Hospital is a major project that I have been keen to take forward, particularly as parts of the current facilities are nearly 100 years old. Securing this additional funding from the Executive provides me with the opportunity to move this much-needed project forward to ensure that our children will receive their care and treatment in a modern paediatric environment.”