So what can we do with £400million for infrastructure projects?

Councilor Paul Reid (Mayor, Mid and East Antrim), William Diver (BAM McCann), Deirdre Mackle (Department for Infrastructure) and Councillor Joan Baird (Mayor, Causeway Coast and Glens) with guests at the opening of the A26 dualling project from Glarryford to Drones Road near the Wee Frosses (photo: Andy Boal)

With thanks to my good friend Wesley Johnston, whose inestimable website is the source for any intelligible figure I can find to help me write this article…

I was at the official opening of the A26 two weeks ago, and I think that there is definitely an appetite to get York Street Interchange sorted out – but the next scheme to hit the ground was always going to be the sole decision of the Minister and the Executive rather than officials.

Today’s announcement, however, has the potential to make a major difference to all this.

Consider the Executive’s allocations to flagship projects from the 2016-17 Budget:

Flagship Projects2016-172017-182018-192019-202020-21Total
A5 Road13.240535568229.2
A6 Road2157606060258
Belfast Rapid Transport1792012.958.9
Belfast Transport Hub5.8164060121.8
Mother and Children’s Hospital1629.362.87361.6242.7
Regional & Sub Regional Stadia9.8273015990.8

From the available figures, the mother and children’s hospital appears to be fully funded (last estimate £219 million), I simply don’t have enough information to calculate whether the stadia are fully funded (the last total cost estimate I found was £110 million, but I don’t know how much was paid out in capital costs for Kingspan Ravenhill and Windsor Park before 2016/17), and google isn’t showing a total for Desertcreat so I don’t know how much the NIFRS college will cost.

What we do have is figures on the road and transport schemes, all dealing in round figures:

The A5 is estimated at £150 million for Newbuildings to Strabane and £225 million for Omagh-Ballygawley, leaving a shortfall of £150 million.

The A6 is estimated at £160 million for Randalstown-Toome (by far the most needed), £60 million for the Dungiven bypass (next) and £340 million for Dungiven-Derry.  Assuming that Dungiven-Derry is on the long finger, like Omagh-Strabane and Ballygawley-Aughnacloy, that leaves a surplus of £35 million.

Belfast Rapid Transit is estimated at £90 million, with £8 million already paid out, and therefore a shortfall of £25 million.

Belfast Transport Hub is estimated at £175 million, with a shortfall of £55 million.

York Street Interchange is estimated at £130 million.

Adding the various shortfalls together, we get a total of £325 million – a figure which could be more, could be less – against today’s announcement of £400 million.  Bearing in mind that my figures are all back of an envelope stuff, there could still be potential for additional work – if the NIFRS college, stadia and regional children’s hospital don’t use up all of the difference of £75 million (and we simply don’t know how much more than £79.4 million the NIFRS college will cost), it is there to be used.

So where could it go?

Well, and again looking at Wesley’s website, my best guess is the difference will go to closing the central reservation gaps between Hillsborough and Loughbrickland, gaps that create serious risk of collisions with turning traffic that is realised far too often.

Why here and not the west?  Well, simply, and at its bluntest, it’s where it will be most needed from the point of view of road safety, and £75 million, even if I’ve underestimated that, isn’t going to buy dual carriageway from Dungiven to Derry or from Strabane to Omagh.  It may seem east-centric, but the reality is that roads in the east are under the most strain of heavy traffic.

The alternative, and although you may well say that I would suggest it, being ever so slightly biased, would be to use it to support longer trains (Translink’s option on additional coaches to lengthen the C4K trains expires in the next two years) or for other public transport measures.

With good cost control (set against a market that you can never quite trust to come in under budget) it could even be both rather than one or the other.

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  • Gopher

    No point doing York street if you dont sort out Dee Street and the Airport entrance traffic lights. Basically you need a motorway to Tillysburn and the best way to do that is put put the railway to the airport side

  • Steptoe

    “It may seem east-centric, but the reality is that roads in the east are under the most strain of heavy traffic”

    Already justifications are afoot as to why the west of the River Bann should not avail of any aditional capital. It’s utterly depressing that any aditional money is destined to go towards projects that happen to be located east, the fact that the electrol map indicates this area is almost all unionist only underscores this depressive reality.

    As for stadia, please someone prove me wrong in suggesting how ridiculous it would be if an English premiership football club expected the government to significantly contribute towards the building of a club stadium. How ironic is it that a sport loving taxpayer should be charged to gain entry to a venue which they have contributed towards building

  • “Bearing in mind that my figures are all back of an envelope stuff, there could still be potential for additional work”

    Utterly pointless speculation….

  • chrisjones2

    Hang on. This needs to be done on a rigorous prioritised basis

    1. Refurbish Stormont Canteen. It’s hard to enjoy ones fillet mignon in dowdy surroundings and where it’s so badly insulated that Belfast members can hear the cries of all those starving constituents they complain about

    2. Ministerial cars have all been sitting about unused for so long the leather upholstery has started to doze. New fleet?

    3. iPhones. Apple has released new ones so we all need at least 4 each. The new MacBooks look snazzy too

    4. Ministerial jet. Bombardier need support and now the MPs have to venture to London for every bloody vote it would be sensible to have our own little runabout. Theresa has even offered a parking bay at Notholt though with Cross Rail coming on Heathrow might be better. Next time can we ask for an extra runway there to avoid the peak time rush?

    After that there is the issue of roads and bridges and tunnels to eliminate blockages. Flyovers at a height of say 10metres should eliminate residents objections on Garvaghy Road, Ormeau Road, Crumlin Road and Donegal Street and allow parades to flow freely

  • Brian O’Neill

    This Belfast rapid transit scheme basically seems to be a road widening scheme. Will be interesting to see how effective it is.

  • paul

    who is going to build all this new infrastructure – most of the workmen are away in England working where there is real wages and profit for sub contractors to be earned not like this backward place where if you factor in putting in fuel to a 10 yr old transit to get to work you lose the job because your to expensive never mind actually employing people correctly and complying with HMRC rules on paye etc. All then main northern irish contractors will mop up this work and then hand out to their pet sub contractors who will find people to work for them who want cash because their on the double and so can do the work for next to nothing. Genuine sub contractors looking to get working on projects like this will not get a look in and still end up traveling to England to keep working.

  • murdockp

    £400m is the scheme of things is very little. I am working on an office in London that cost £400m.

    If this place was innovative they could use the £400m working with the private sector to deliver about £20bn of projects whilst simultaneously driving through major efficiency through our archaic public sector creatign more money for spending. For example consolidating inefficient government offices and departments into shared campus space using PPP to deliver the buildings no different to how Tescos deliver new stores. Also a few toll roads and bridges would be welcome here too. I would happily have a toll bridge at Narrow Water in Down if it meant a bridge was actually built.

    Unfortunately we are old school, the £400m will be spent on ‘old’ infrastructure. what i mean by old is bus stations and not mass transit railways etc. It will deliver no more than 10 projects.

  • murdockp

    Exactly my point, there is nothing innovative in their proposed spending. How about a mass transit railway like manchester and croydon tram systems? All our spending is around cars.

  • murdockp

    Manchester City. Stadium paid for by the Council. The London Stadium West Ham, paid for by the GLA, You are quite right it is ridiculous.

    However not quite as ridiculous as building a stadium in a housing estate with no parking that will only be used to capacity 2 – 4 times a year.

  • Brendan Heading

    I used to dislike guided bus schemes, but this one has potential if it is properly implemented. The reason why we’re not building a tram system is because it would be extremely expensive.

  • Brendan Heading

    No point doing York street if you dont sort out Dee Street and the Airport entrance traffic lights.

    This isn’t true. The majority of commuters in the morning are not going to the harbour estate or the airport. North Down is not the centre of the universe, despite what some people might think.

  • Josh

    Why don’t they use the money to reopen the rail line to the international airport? As far as I know most of the line is already there, just needs some finishing touches and some new trains which the surplus should cover.

  • AndyB

    It would in principle, but in reality the bus would be quicker whether the train went through Lisburn or through Antrim!

  • AndyB

    Don’t forget going home in the evening. The Sydenham bypass is an annoying place Bangor-bound.

    I was thinking about that, actually. Dee Street would be a good use, but it wouldn’t be ready to go to tender in time when the money is there.

  • AndyB

    Moving the railway line sounds good in principle, but then you need an exit from the airport over the railway line which takes up a lot of space from the airport. Drive the railway line underground and the cost escalates pretty quickly.

    Dee Street wouldn’t be ready to tender before the extra cash runs out. It’s far too early in development.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Will there be any extra trains?

  • AndyB

    You have to look at it the other way.

    If you have £75 million to spend on roads, hospitals or schools (the effective real choice for this money) you should be spending it where it is objectively needed, rather than the more common choice of where it would make most publicity and votes.

    We could spend £75 million making the Glenshane and Foreglen Roads between Dungiven and Derry a bit wider, with alternating overtaking lanes, which would certainly help traffic, but it would be throwing good money after bad, because you would end up undoing all the work when you finally made it the required dual carriageway (incidentally the strongest argument against the Alternative A5 alliance – their proposal to do exactly that to the A5 is such a short term stopgap as to be a total waste of money.)

    Apart from the A5 and the A6, are there any roads west of the Bann crying out for substantial upgrading due to congestion and collision figures compared to roads like the A1 Hillsborough-Loughbrickland and A2 Belfast-Bangor.

    Portrush railway station, despite being east of the Bann (like Coleraine) could be covered, as well as Waterside station.

    Of course, infrastructure in the broader sense could include schools in the west, which would actually be a pretty good use where schools either need to replace mobile classrooms or have full new builds, but it has to be balanced with oversupply of school places.

    Ultimately it’s not about east-west divides and counting how much goes where. If the pot is limited, and that is certainly true, the pot needs to go where it will have the greatest impact on people’s lives.

  • Gopher

    Kinnegar Barracks is closing and whatever it gets zoned for will turn the Bangor Road into a car park as it stands at present.

    Dee Street lights nor the Airport lights can process the traffic as it stands off the Westlink and M2. If the York exchange goes ahead without action on the Sydenham bypass the tailback will defeat the whole intention of the exchange.

    Swapping sides withe railway is the logical solution if funds exist as it will minimise traffic disruption. If no funds exist bridges with slip roads without light will need to be built to avoid the above mentioned problems

    On the County bound M1 we have the problem that the off ramps can’t cope with the Traffic which will back on to the Motorway if flow is increased. Probably looking at a new off ramp at Boucher and everyone past Stockmans lane lengthened to cope.

    There is no getting away from most of the traffic in Northern Ireland funnels through one square mile onto three roads so the solution won’t be cheap otherwise you will have the most expensive carpark in Irish History.

  • lizmcneill

    Which roads have the space around them to be widened?

  • lizmcneill

    Wish they hadn’t removed the trains/trams we had in NI back in the 1950s.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Here’s a plan:

    Use the money to reduce rates, re-open old train stations, add more train carriages, reduce the price of train tickets (free for 2 months and then slowly increased to a sensible level) and upgrade a bit of road here and there.

    This’ll reduce congestion and increase employment as people will now be able to afford to open businesses unlike now in the climate of the current state-sponsored robbery that suppresses businesses.

    We need no more stadia and schools can be provided for by merging some schools and selling assets.


  • Am Ghobsmacht

    And I agree with MurdockP; more toll roads.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Have you seen the plans for the Belfast Rapid Transit? It (to me) looks like futuristic bendy-buses. Is that the best we can do?

  • Steptoe

    I agreed with all of that especially the trains. It’s such a pity that there are some many abonded lines around the place that would surely take the pressure off the road network, anyway, going by train is more fun!

  • Steptoe

    Yep, Magee university would have a pretty big impact on people’s lives but hey, we are where we are

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I say have a dpending splurge on the railway.

    No heavy plant, just men with iron bars, hammers and shovels.

    Men on the dole for more than ten years get the first ‘invitations’ for the work.