Future of £165m York Street Interchange still unclear
INFRASTRUCTURE minister Chris Hazzard has insisted Brexit is to blame for uncertainty over the £165m York Street Interchange project.
The Sinn Fein minister was speaking after the British government said it would guarantee EU funding for any projects signed before the UK leaves Europe.
The York Street scheme aims to ease congestion at the north's busiest junction, where some 100,000 vehicles pass between the M1, M2 and M3 in Belfast each day.
It emerged this week that the plans were being put on hold due to doubts about European funding following the EU referendum.
It was hoped Europe would pay for 40 per cent of the cost of the underpass and bridge project, which was scheduled to be completed by 2020.
Adrian Doran, chairman of CBI's Northern Ireland Infrastructure Network, said the news was “an unwelcome development and one that potentially damages both Belfast and Northern Ireland's economic competitiveness.”
Seamus Leheny from the Freight Transport Association also said the delay represents "bad news for transport operators and the economy".
"The minister has to clarify if the scheme will be going ahead next year as planned," he said.
In a statement yesterday, the British government said: “The Chancellor made clear that structural and investment funds for projects signed until the point the UK leaves the EU will be fully funded by the Treasury even after we leave, as well as underwriting the payments of any awards won by UK organisations who bid directly to the EU for competitive funding, even when specific projects continue beyond the UK's departure from the EU.”
However, Mr Hazzard's department last night said the next EU funding call for major projects was not expected until 2018.
"The outcome of this process and any potential signing off, if successful, is unlikely to be in place before the Brexit completes, according to the current timeframe set out by the British government.
"In addition the Executive have prioritised four flagship projects including the Belfast Rapid Transit, Belfast Transport Hub and the A5 and A6, therefore existing resources will be needed to take these projects forward. ?"
Ulster Unionist MLA Jenny Palmer said it was "simply incredible that the York Street Interchange is not the top priority for infrastructure spend".
SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said: "Why are the DUP continuing to press for Brexit when they know that almost all of our infrastructure projects rely on EU funding?"
Alliance councillor Michael Long asked "if the DUP and Sinn Fein are ignoring Belfast in terms of vital infrastructure".
The DUP's William Humphrey, chair of the Stormont infrastructure committee, said he wanted to discuss the details of funding with the minister.
"I firmly believe in the importance of the York Street Interchange, but I also live in the real world where there are competing priorities for a finite budget."