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Minister right to press ahead with York Street Interchange

The infrastructure minister's decision to move forward with the York Street Interchange despite concerns over EU funding will be widely welcomed.

This major project had seemed in doubt after Sinn Féin minister Chris Hazzard put the brakes on the £130 million scheme last month, suggesting time was running out to secure up to 40 per cent funding from Europe ahead of the expected exit by the UK in 2019.

The Treasury had promised to cover any financial shortfall for schemes signed off before Brexit but as the next round of funding applications for this type of project does not open until 2018, there was some uncertainty over the timescale.

Despite his reservations, Mr Hazzard has accepted the findings of a public inquiry that the scheme should go ahead in principle.

This is important as it will allow preparatory work to proceed which will mean that construction can begin once funding is secured.

The minister is entitled to flag up the issue of EU funding and he is understandably focused on a range of other priorities, including the A5 and A6.

But there are compelling reasons to keep the York Street project moving.

This interchange, where the Westlink, M2 and M3 meet, is a recognised bottleneck and there is a strong case for constructing a bridge and underpasses to ensure the free flow of traffic.

We also know that while it is Theresa May's intention to trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017, starting the two year negotiation period on Brexit, it is by no means certain that the final deal will be done by 2019.

As matters stand, the Supreme Court in London is due to hear an appeal next month against the High Court ruling that parliament must give its consent before Article 50 is invoked.

If that judgment is upheld and the decision goes back to Westminster, it is difficult to predict precisely when talks with the EU will begin.

In the current circumstances, Mr Hazzard is well advised to press on with the York Street project which, in any case, will take some years to come to fruition.

It is worth noting that while the £130 million cost of this initiative is certainly a substantial sum, it pales in comparison with the scandalous cost to the public purse of the renewable heat incentive scheme.

It is estimated that more than £1 billion will have been spent on this fiasco by 2036 in what is a shocking waste of taxpayers' money.

The York Street Interchange, when it is eventually completed, will be of benefit to the wider economy.

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