Stormont has allocated funding for two long-awaited East Antrim major roads schemes.
Finance Minister Sammy Wilson announced on Tuesday that a capital investment package totalling nearly £600 million over four years includes £105m set aside for completion of the A8 dual carriageway and £57m to widen the A2 at Greenisland.
Mr Wilson admitted he took a “calculated risk” in releasing a total of £490 million for three major roads schemes. The package busts the Northern Ireland Executive’s budget for roads expenditure and Mr Wilson is counting on clawing back the excess through departmental underspends.
“I took the view that the construction industry needs an injection right now and we can achieve that by taking on more roads schemes than we have the money for at present,” said the DUP MLA, who acknowledged that East Antrim has “done very well out of this”, but denied it was purely a political decision.
“I want to emphasise that these two schemes were not judged on the basis of who was making the decision,” said Mr Wilson. “I had to argue in the Executive that these were deserving projects in their own right and of course I have a knowledge of the area and all the problems that have been caused over many years by a lack of investment, on the A2 especially.
“For the people who travel on that road, it will relieve a massive daily frustration, twice every day, and in the short term create construction jobs in the area, but most importantly, it opens up opportunities for investment at the vast former Courtaulds site. I have no doubt that one of the things that stops people investing in Carrickfergus, which is after all strategically placed, is the daily cost of transport through those traffic jams.”
The £57 million A2 scheme can proceed, but the A8 project is dependant on recommendations in a report from the commissioner in charge of the public inquiry on the DRD’s Ballynure by-pass proposal. Mr Wilson explained: “I have released the money for the completion of the A8 scheme, but the minister (Danny Kennedy) is the one who will have to make a final decision. I don’t know what is in the report and I would not want to pre-empt what might be in it, but I understand the minister may be in a position to announce his decision in the next few weeks.”
See this week’s Larne Times for the full story.