28 January 2015

Question Time: Regional Development - Tuesday 27 January 2015



Street Lighting was the main talking point during Oral Questions to the Regional Development Minister, Danny Kennedy.

Mr Ross MLA, Mr Brady MLA and Mr Kinahan MLA all asked the Minister what proportion of street lighting is currently in need of maintenance. The Ministed answered with "Following the Executive's agreement to meet my Department's bid in the January monitoring round for additional funding to repair street lights, I can confirm that I reinstated the use of external contractors on 19 January 2015 to carry out street lighting repairs to supplement my Department's internal resources. Last week, some 4,359 job cards were issued to external contractors and, together with internal resources, I estimate that my Department has already reduced the backlog of outages by some 3,000. Currently, the total number of street lights out is around 20,000.

Members will be aware that, due to pressures on my Department's resource budget, I had to suspend the use of external contractors or routine street lighting repairs on 8 August 2014. My Department continued to bid for that money at every possible opportunity. Although my Department's staff continued to fix as many street lights as possible, a backlog of defective lights has been developing since last August.

Members should understand that it will take time to catch up. Nonetheless, I am committed to having the backlog cleared as quickly as possible. Contractors have been on the ground since early last week. I want to make it clear that the funding provided in January monitoring is for this financial year only".

The Minister was also asked for hiss assessment of the outcome of the January monitoring round for his Department, the Glenmachen Sewer Project and will the Minister introduce road safety measures in Ballyholland, Newry.

The 15 minute period of Topical Questions to the Minister started with the Minister being asked about Winter Weather and what resources are available to him in face of the bad weather that is predicted for Northern Ireland in the next few days. The minister stated,  "The displaced Arctic polar vortex is likely to have an impact on Northern Ireland in the coming days. The southerly position of
the jet stream will pull colder Arctic air over the United Kingdom. There is the prospect of up to 10 cm of snow tomorrow, even at some lower levels. On higher ground, there is the risk of strong winds causing drifting and even blizzards.

I have been advised that commuters and travellers are likely to face winter hazards. Therefore, my available fleet of over 120 gritters is available to salt the 7,000 kilometres — 4,300 miles — of main roads in just over three hours, which is a massive logistical exercise that costs over £80,000 each time. Almost 51,000 tons of salt have been used so far this season. At the same point last year, just over 35,000 tons had been used.

That is the forecast, but I hope that we will not see the full impact of the Arctic polar vortex".

The Minister also had to answer questions on Grit Box Replacement and the Rail Newtowk Expansion Plans.