John Dallat asked the Minister for Regional Development, Danny Kennedy, about the delays in the tendering process for the upgrade of the Belfast to Derry/Londonderry railway line during today’s Question Time. The Minister affirmed that the signalling element of the upgrade will proceed “subject to the necessary approvals being obtained and an updated economic appraisal” and assured that he remains “fully committed to the completion of the work and to the improvement of the rail service between Northern Ireland’s two largest cities”. When asked if the Department of Finance and Personnel will expedite the business case for the upgrade, Mr Kennedy replied “I very much that hope that DFP will recognise the value of the project despite the increase in phase 2 costs” describing it as “an important Programme for Government project” and pointing to the one third increase in passengers on the rail line in the last two years. Mr Kennedy also revealed that he is hopeful of securing EU funding for Londonderry’s Waterside station.
Ian McCrea then asked the Minister for details on the number of street light repairs that are currently being carried out. Mr Kennedy said that due to significant budget constraints he has made to make a number of difficult decisions “including the suspension of works orders to external contractors that were responsible for the repair of approximately three quarters of the street lights that go out”. Repairs are now carried out by priority with greater urgency being applied to faults that present an electrical hazard, then areas in which a large number of lights are faulty and finally to individual light faults. The Minister added that “I must point out that street lighting repairs have not ceased. All fault reports are being recorded and will be dealt with as soon as resources permit.” Following June and October monitoring rounds the budget has been stretched and “I simply cannot spend money that I do not have.”
Mr Kennedy also provided updates on various road projects around the country and, during the topical question period, also answered Members’ queries on concessionary travel fares, the proposed par-and-ride scheme in Tamnamore and the cleaning policies after periods of flooding.