Brexit vote played role in decision to put major road scheme on hold

York Street Belfast plans
York Street Belfast plans

A major road improvement scheme for Belfast has been put on hold with the Brexit vote being a key factor.

Around 40% of funding for the York Street Interchange was to come from the European Union and following the vote to leave the Department for Infrastructure have put the project on hold.

Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard had previously said the major road project had been a strong contender for EU funding, warning that without guarantees of replacement funding his budget would be put under pressure.

A recent report from Transport NI revealed the project was the only one of its 34 projects currently being undertaken that had been put on hold.

The £100million project had been given the go-ahead last year and was aimed at solving Belfast’s traffic problems at one of the busiest junctions in the city which handles 100,000 vehicles a day.

A Department for Infrastructure spokesperson said: “The Minister has a range of capital priorities including four Executive flagship projects. Progress on these will be determined by the scale of resources available to him from the forthcoming budget process.

“As a result, as the published procurement plan states, the procurement in relation to the York Street project is currently on hold.”

East Antrim MLA, Stewart Dickson commented: “Yorkgate interchange is a junction which currently clogs up the arteries that serve Belfast and East Antrim. Having been so committed to this ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to eradicate this rail and road bottleneck, only to see it being halted, despite finally getting the go-ahead, is extremely disappointing news.”

Adrian Doran, Chair of CBI Northern Ireland Infrastructure Network said quality of infrastructure is a decisive factor when planning future investment.

“In this context the decision to place the vital York Street Interchange project on hold is an unwelcome development and one that potentially damages both Belfast and Northern Ireland’s economic competitiveness,” he said.

“It does little to improve business confidence, particularly at a time of heightened uncertainty following the EU Referendum.

“Local businesses will be looking to the Minister for Infrastructure to provide clarity on the future of this important project, which the CBI considers to be an indispensable improvement to our strategic road network.”

Freight Transport Association’s Northern Ireland manager Seamus Leheny said: “FTA members will be bitterly disappointed if the scheme does not go ahead as planned. Commercial vehicle operators from right across the country consistently state that the M1, M2, Westlink road corridor is the most problematic and costly for their vehicles to navigate.

“Commercial vehicle operators contribute significant revenue to the government through fuel duty, vehicle ownership tax and road user levy so it is reasonable for them to expect a road infrastructure that supports their industry.”

When the project was given the go ahead, Danny Kennedy was Transport Minister.

Earlier this year, in light of the Brexit vote, he warned: “Outside the EU many of these projects would simply not have happened, because the funding would not have been made available either centrally or by our devolved administration.

“I am pleased to say we left a pipeline of legacy projects too. Design funding was secured for the new Belfast Transport Hub and for the York Street Interchange - and I have found from experience that when Europe buys into the design, Europe will part fund the construction too.”