Northern Ireland news

Call for timetable for £130m York Street interchange scheme in Belfast

An artist's impression of the York Street Interchange, where the Westlink, M2 and M3 meet.
Paul Ainsworth

A TIMETABLE has been urged for a £130m scheme to ease congestion at the north’s busiest roads junction.

The proposed York Street Interchange will see a new underpass and bridge built where the Westlink, M2 and M3 meet in north Belfast.

It was scheduled to be completed by 2020, but last month infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard warned that the Brexit vote had put the project in doubt as around 40 per cent of the funding was to come from Europe.

The Sinn Féin minister said that although he remained committed to the project, tenders for work had stopped due to the “serious implications” of the referendum result.

The stalling of the plans drew criticism, with business leaders warning that the north’s economic competitiveness could be damaged, as poor infrastructure remains a hurdle for investors.

Now the minister has said he accepts the outcome of a public inquiry recommending the scheme go ahead following consultation with locals living nearby and further consideration over the needs of cyclists.

However, Mr Hazzard said funding remains a “major challenge”.

“There is no doubt that a scheme of this scale represents a significant investment in our economy,” he said.

“By removing the traffic bottleneck, the new interchange will improve journey time reliability and road safety for motorists, including freight transport, and support the competitiveness of the Port of Belfast with improved links to the strategic road network.

“However, the £130m funding remains a major challenge with a number of competing priorities across the Executive. The project could have attracted up to 40 per cent EU funding, but since the referendum vote this funding opportunity is now in doubt.

“I will need to consider this project together with other priorities as part of my Budget 2017-21.”

The more positive note struck by the minister was welcomed by the NI Independent Retail Association, whose chief executive Glyn Roberts said the project was “vital for our economy”.

However, the chair of the assembly’s infrastructure committee, the DUP's William Humphrey, said there should be no further delays.

“The procurement process is well advanced I would hope that further progress can be made quickly,” he said, urging an “indicative timetable” for work commencing.

“I know that such an announcement would be warmly welcomed by businesses, commuters and the wider public."

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