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'Blow to economy' as massive Belfast motorway scheme put on hold

Artist's impression of the proposed new-look York Street following the interchange project
Paul Ainsworth

THE shelving of the York Street Interchange project in Belfast could damage the north’s economy, it has been warned.

The huge road scheme, due to be completed by 2020 at a cost of up to £165m, would see the construction of a new bridge and underpass at the junction of the Westlink, M2 and M3 motorways.

The project aims to alleviate heavy congestion at the junction, with up to 40 per cent of the bill expected to be paid with European funding.

However, Transport NI has declared the project “on hold” following the result of the EU membership referendum.

Infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard previously warned that the Brexit vote had “serious implications” for the scheme.

The Sinn Fein minister said he was still “committed” to the project, but tenders have stopped for the work at the north’s busiest junction, which sees 100,000 travel through each day.

The decision to halt the plans has caused dismay, with the Freight Transport Association (FTA) describing the development as “hugely disappointing”.

“We have over 350 members, and any one of them will tell you this junction gives them the most grief anywhere in Northern Ireland,” said policy manager Seamus Leheny.

“Also, millions upon millions of tonnes of freight move in and out of the Port of Belfast, and it’s essential to prevent this daily build-up of congestion.

"In terms of the economy, we have a natural disadvantage caused by the Irish Sea – the least we could do is make our internal infrastructure as good as it can be.”

CBI Northern Ireland’s Adrian Doran meanwhile highlighted a recent survey showing that 94 per cent of businesses view infrastructure as a “decisive factor” when deciding where to invest.

“In this context the decision to place the vital York Street Interchange project on hold is an unwelcome development and one that potentially damages both Belfast and Northern Ireland’s economic competitiveness,” he said.

“It does little to improve business confidence, particularly at a time of heightened uncertainty following the EU referendum.”

A Department for Infrastructure spokesperson said: “The minister has a range of capital priorities including four Executive flagship projects. Progress on these will be determined by the scale of resources available to him from the forthcoming budget process.

“As a result as the published procurement plan states, the procurement in relation to the York Street project is currently on hold.”

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