Interconnector most critical infrastructure project for north's businesses

The £200m north-south interconnector has been bogged down in delays
The £200m north-south interconnector has been bogged down in delays

THE vast majority of firms in Northern Ireland consider a new north-south interconnector a "major priority" for the economy.

A survey of members of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in the north found it was a leading infrastructure priority for 87 per cent of companies.

It formed part of the latest CBI infrastructure survey in conjunction with AECOM, the global architecture, engineering and construction firm.

The report found roads, digital and energy were considered the top areas for improvement in the north's infrastructure.

But while businesses have a wish list of projects - which includes the upgrading of the A6 between Belfast and Derry and an increase in flight connections to Britain - many are pessimistic that anything will get done.

In the case of plans for the £200 million north-south interconnector, proposals have been on the table since 2009 but have got caught up in controversy.

The project aims to improve connectivity across the electricity grids on both sides of the border.

If given the go-ahead, it will see a series of overhead cables running from just north of Moy in Co Tyrone to Kingscourt in Co Cavan.

The plans are considered critical, particularly as the capacity reduces dramatically at the north's biggest power station at Kilroot to comply with EU regulations.

But the proposals have been delayed as objectors claimed it will be a blot on the landscape with some saying it could pose a risk to health.

In September, the man responsible for the north's grid, Robin McCormick said the region was "on the verge of an electricity supply crisis" if the plans didn't get the go ahead.

The CBI report found respondents in the north were the most pessimistic about major infrastructure projects actually progressing.

When it comes to roads infrastructure, 88 per cent of businesses in Northern Ireland said they didn't expect it to improve within the current parliament.

Forty per cent of firms said they were concerned about the cost of delivering infrastructure improvements.

But more than half (54 per cent) were willing to support a user-pays model - such as toll roads - if it lead to greater resilience and improved journey times.

CBI's director in the north Angela McGowan said the message coming from the report was simple: "Delivery is what matters".

"Day in, day out, our businesses rely on our roads, railways and runways to move their goods, services and people up and down the country," she said.

"However, it is a concern that over half of local businesses are dissatisfied with their region’s infrastructure, or that confidence in the future is running low, especially when it comes to delivery, the key piece of the infrastructure puzzle.

"Businesses need clear, deliverable timetables for action on major projects in order for them to act as magnets for investment, growth and jobs.

"If we don’t get spades in the ground on existing plans, it’s clear we could put a major dent in the competitiveness of local business. This is something we cannot afford to do, especially during this period of uncertainty as the UK leaves the EU.”

Ms McGowan said greater co-operation was required between businesses and the Stormont executive to deliver infrastructure projects.

"Last week at a CBI question time event, the infrastructure minister (Chris Hazzard) stated his desire to work with the business community to deliver more and better infrastructure which will in turn support sustainable economic growth.

"After decades of under investment in Northern Ireland’s infrastructure, this vision of greater public and private collaboration is one that the business community strongly welcomes.

"Local firms are ready and willing to work with the executive to develop the skills and capacity to deliver our joint aims.”