Millions already spent on York Street Interchange could go ‘down the drain’

Chris Hazzard blamed his decision to delay the York Street Interchange project on Brexit
Chris Hazzard blamed his decision to delay the York Street Interchange project on Brexit

Over £5.5 million has been spent on the York Street Interchange project in the past five years, Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard has revealed.

The money is in danger of “going down the drain” because of the minister’s decision to put the project ‘on hold’ last month, Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said.

The decision to put the freeze on the £100 million project, designed to alleviate traffic congestion around one of the busiest routes in Belfast, was blamed on Brexit by Mr Hazzard.

An EU programme called the ‘Connecting Europe Facility’ was to have paid for 40% of the project.

Responding to written Assembly questions from MLAs Nichola Mallon and Mr Dickson, Mr Hazzard revealed that a colossal £7.4 million has been spent on the project in the past 10 years, with £5.5 million of that expenditure coming since 2012.

The vast majority of the spending has come from the public purse, while a smaller portion came from the EU.

A spokesperson for the department said: “The department successfully secured £1.02 million of EU co-financing for the York Street Interchange. The remainder of the funding was directly from the departmental budget.”

Commenting on the figures, Mr Dickson said: “It seems like an incredible amount of money. It would concern me that the minister is risking this money going down the drain and I would be shocked and horrified if that happens.

“I am pleased to have seen the money spent on the York Street Interchange because I believe it is the single most important infrastructure project in Northern Ireland in terms of our connectivity, but I would be concerned that it would be wasted because of the way the minister seems to be using this as a playing card over Brexit.”

Over £400,000 has been spent on the project in the current financial year up to September, while £1,836,931 was spent last year and £1,525,067 in the financial year 2014/15.

Stewart Dickson said: “I suspect that there will be plenty more unpaid bills for the current financial year that remain unpaid so I would expect that figure to rise.”

Speaking about the wider implications of MrHazzard putting the project on hold, Mr Dickson said: “The UK Government have made it very clear that they will provide funding for any projects, such as this one, that required EU funding. The problems with that particular route are immense. Everything is bottle-necked.”