Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has been looking back and reflecting upon her two years in office.
Minister Mallon said:
"The Department for Infrastructure and its arms-length bodies provide essential public services, which underpin the daily lives of our people, local communities, the environment and our economy.
"As we look back on the last two years, I am proud that every day we are working to deliver for people right across the North. My team here are working to ensure that we have safe roads and rivers, transport connections, clean water, sufficient street lighting and ensure we are safe when we drive, when we walk, wheel and cycle.
"Over the past two years we have put our shoulder to the wheel in government to tackle the climate crisis, to respond to the challenges of Covid-19 and Brexit and while we were focused on getting the basics right, we were also building a better future with our plans for all island rail connectivity, delivering the iconic Narrow Water Bridge, connecting Derry-Belfast with the new A6 and approving a new stadium for the GAA in Ulster at Casement Park.
"Improving the lives of people and communities across Northern Ireland has been at the core of my vision here to create modern and sustainable infrastructure that transforms lives, our economy and our island for the better."
Commenting on her key priorities over the last two years, the Minister said:
"To address the historic underfunding of our water and sewerage infrastructure, I allocated Pound 344.5 million this year from my budget for essential water and sewerage services. This was the first time in many years that we had been able to fully fund this essential public service as recommended by the Utility Regulator.
"Unfortunately, the road network, including footways, cycle lanes and bus lanes, maintenance has suffered due to a historic lack of investment, but this year I was delighted to be able to allocate Pound 17 million towards a Roads Recovery Fund of which Pound 15 million is being targeted towards rural roads. This investment, the highest level of funding to date for a specific rural roads fund, is being used to address areas of immediate concern across the rural roads network.
"I have also allocated Pound 19million for flood protection schemes across the North, including Belfast, Newcastle, Lisburn and Newry, to protect homes and businesses from the devastation of flooding, which can be a distressing and frightening experience for those affected.
"Playing my part in tackling the climate crisis has been of huge importance to me. I set up a new Pound 20 million per year blue/green infrastructure fund to support the transformation of our communities, promote active travel and shape our places.
"I have invested in public transport to encourage a shift away from the car to more sustainable transport. One hundred and forty five zero and low emission buses including 20 hydrogen fuelled buses costing Pound 74million will begin to go into service from Spring this year. In addition, I have invested Pound 30million for the purchase of 38 new zero emission battery electric buses for the Foyle Metro fleet, making it one of the first cities across these islands to have a zero emission bus fleet.
"I have also invested Pound 66million in 21 new train carriages and depot infrastructure to transform rail journeys. This will help to reduce carbon emissions and attract more people to make cleaner public transport choices.
"I have allocated funding for the feasibility study for the Phase 3 upgrade of the Derry to Belfast railway line. This crucial investment is the first step to getting rail in the North West of Ireland back on track.
"The North West Transport Hub has been completed and work on the Belfast Transport Hub is underway. The A6 is nearing completion and other key infrastructure projects including the A1 Junctions safety programme, Narrow Water Bridge, York Street Interchange and a range of bypass projects are moving forward. All of these will have economic multiplier effects and help to address safety, connectivity and regional imbalance.
"It is important to recognise the island wide benefits of iconic cross border projects like the Narrow Water Bridge that will not only connect people but the economies of this island. I am delighted that working with the Irish Government I have launched an all island strategic rail review, the first review in over 100 years, looking at how we can connect communities and businesses across Ireland and deliver cleaner rail travel across our island.
"Road safety is of course an issue I take very seriously. A consultation on a new Road Safety Strategy to 2030 has just ended which will provide the framework for implementation to improve road safety. Other initiatives such as the 20 mph scheme at schools; the road safety grant scheme; the introduction of tougher penalties for mobile phone use while driving; and enforcement actions by the DVA, in collaboration with the PSNI continue as we work to make roads safer for all users.
"I firmly believe in the need for a long term shared vison and an agreed approach to infrastructure delivery. That is why in August 2020 I established the Ministerial Advisory Panel on Infrastructure, which recommended that an Infrastructure Commission would more effectively support the long term planning and development of relevant infrastructure here. I was pleased that this has been included as a key action in the Executive's Covid Recovery Plan and is now being progressed in a positive way via a cross-departmental working group. I will keep pushing for delivery of this ambitious project alongside my commitment to a youth assembly, where we not only work with experts on the future of infrastructure here but also with our young people, the leaders of tomorrow."
Concluding the Minister said:
"The COVID-19 pandemic remains and was ever present over the last two years which brought many challenges for the delivery of the frontline services for which I am responsible. In this challenging time my team has pulled together, we have worked with others to find creative and safe solutions to keep our services running and to help others struggling through the pandemic. For my remaining time in office I remain determined and focused on delivering good governance and improvements to the lives and livelihoods of all the people who live and work here."
- Granted planning permission for a new stadium at Casement Park, Belfast.
- Contract awarded a contract for a new regional planning IT system in conjunction with 10 local councils.
- North West Multi Modal Transport Hub project completed.
- Work on Belfast Transport Hub progressing.
- Pound 23.5m in financial support for Taxi Drivers and Private Coach and Bus Operators
- Pound 20million per year Blue/Green Infrastructure Fund set up to promote active travel and support the transformation of communities by providing/ improving cycleways, footways and green/ blue spaces that will encourage people to walk, wheel and cycle as part of their everyday lives
- Published 'Belfast Cycling Network'
- Work underway to build a new Pound 16.5m Driver & Vehicle Test Centre and Depot at Hydebank, Belfast.
- Introduced a new online booking system for driving and vehicle tests.
- Introduced a new Commercial Licensing System for taxis and buses.
- Between 1 August and 31 December 2021 conducted 325,220 full vehicle tests, which is 6% higher than the five-year average for that period.
- Between 1 May and 31 December 2021 conducted 46,525 driving tests, which is 39% higher than the five-year average for that period.
- Introduced new legislation to exempt vehicles of historic interest from MOT.
- The A6 Randalstown to Castledawson Dualling Scheme completed.
- The A6 Dungiven - Drumahoe dual carriageway scheme progressing.
- A Pound 1.1 million extension to the M1 bus lanes has been completed.
- Five new Park and Ride projects at Newtownards (Bus), Comber (Bus ), Cairnshill, Belfast (Bus), Downpatrick (Bus), Trooperslane, and Carrickfergus (Rail) underway.
- Work begins on a Pound 19 million major refurbishment of rail infrastructure for the Whiteabbey area.
- Pound 10 million investment project underway for a new train station at York Street, Belfast.
- Rail infrastructure upgrade works costing Pound 31million underway in the Cullybackey area
- Pound 17.85 million Belfast Tidal Flood Alleviation Scheme underway.
- Pound 2.9 million Phase one river Flood Alleviation Scheme in Newry underway.
- Pound 5.1 million Shimna River flood alleviation scheme begins
- Pound 365,000 flood alleviation scheme on the La Salle Stream in West Belfast.
- Pound 2.8 million flood alleviation scheme on the Glenbrook River in the Cregagh Road / Montgomery Road area of East Belfast
- Pound 900,000 flood alleviation scheme on the Flush Bridge Stream in the Prince William Road area of Lisburn
- Published 'Living with Water' plan for Belfast.
- Second Cycle Flood Risk Management Plan 2021-27 published.
- Planning for the Future of Transport - Time for Change published.
- Implementation of a part time 20mph speed limit programme at more than 200 schools.
- New legislation to increase penalty points and fines for those using a hand-held mobile phone while driving introduced,
- Consultation on proposals to reduce the number of minor motoring offences coming before our courts taking place.
- Options paper and online questionnaire published to help inform a future policy for pavement parking.
- Provided Pound 350,000 of match-funding for local councils to grow the e-charging network.
- Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Task-Force established and new legislation to extend permitted development rights for electric vehicle charging points.
- Legislation to extend permitted development rights for telecommunication development and also to remove permitted development rights for oil and gas exploration.