£83m underspend on road maintenance last year
SPENDING on road maintenance in the north was £83 million below recommended levels last year, it has been revealed.
Figures released by the Department of Infrastructure also show there has been a deficit in the budget in eight of the past 10 years.
The comparison is based on recommendations of the independently established Structural Maintenance Funding Plan (SMFP), which advises how money on roads should be spent.
In 2015/16 the deficit was £83m, more than twice the figure of £35m the previous year.
The previous highest underspend stood at £41m in 2008/09.
The figures, released following an assembly question from UUP finance spokesman Philip Smith, also shows that the department expects to record a deficit of "around £75m" this financial year.
"The independently established Structural Maintenance Funding Plan (SMFP) recommends that some £141 million per annum, based on 2016 prices, is needed to maintain the structural integrity of the entire road network in the north at good practice resurfacing frequencies," the minister, Chris Hazzard, said.
"The structural maintenance budget for the current financial year (2016/17) is £66 million, leaving a deficit of around £75 million."
The figures were released before finance minister Mairtín Ó Muilleoir this week announced £15m extra for roads maintenance as part of a reallocation of Executive funds in the latest 'monitoring round'.
The only years in the last decade when the recommended spend was met was in 2011/12, when there was a £4m overspend, and 2013/14 when there was a £2.5m surplus.
Mr Hazzard insisted that bringing the deficit under control is a priority.
"The member should be assured of my commitment to supporting the funding for structural maintenance and that it is certainly high on my priorities this year and looking to Budget 2016," he said.
Mr Smith said the underspend was "alarming".
"Whilst there is no doubt that the pressures on public finances have been significant over recent years, when it comes to investment in our local roads, ensuring they remain safe and don't pose a threat to lives should be the very minimum standard, " he told the Irish News.
"The ad hoc funding of roads maintenance, mainly as a result of the increasing dependence on monitoring rounds, has become a major problem over recent years and that is why in the upcoming budget discussions the Ulster Unionist Party will be calling for the funding to be included in the Department of Infrastructure's budget baseline from next year."
In June official figures from Transport NI revealed there were more than 110,000 'carriageway surface defects' on our roads.
The figure includes potholes, cracking and depressions.