£35m government cash injection will protect vital freight routes

A £35m government fund will help provide the continued movement of freight services at harbours like Belfast
Gary McDonald Business Editor

VITAL freight routes into and out of Northern Ireland will continue to run smoothly as the result of a £35 million government scheme to help ensure critical goods such as food and medical supplies can move freely.

The Department for Transport has signed agreements with six operators to provide funding to help ensure there is enough freight capacity to prevent any disruption to the flow of goods.

The decision has been made to protect 16 of the most important routes covering the English Channel, Short Strait, the North Sea and routes between Britain and Northern Ireland which were previously at risk of closure due to a drop in demand as a result of coronavirus.

They will now be designated as Public Service Obligation routes for a period of up to 9 weeks.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "From the very beginning of the outbreak, we have committed to do whatever it takes to minimise the disruption caused by Covid-19.

"By taking this action, we have helped protect the movement of goods and services in and out of the UK, safeguarding the flow of supplies across the Union."

The Department for Transport said it continues to work closely with the transport sector and devolved administrations to monitor the situation on all freight routes (not just those in the scheme) to keep goods moving freely.

The agreements follow the UK, French and Irish governments’ pledge to work together on temporary measures to ensure Covid-19 does not threaten vital freight routes between the countries.

In April it was confirmed that ports in Belfast, Larne and Warrenpoint were to benefit from an injection of up to £17m to help keep ferries sailing and maintain the flow of food and medical supplies during the current crisis.

That fund, signed off by infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon, provided a shortfall cost subsidy to ensure routes run by Stena Line, P&O and Seatruck break even.

The scheme applied to five key routes – those linking Belfast with Heysham, Liverpool and Cairnryan, as well as Cairnryan-Larne and Heysham-Warrenpoint.

This support is for two months and is estimated to cost between £10.6m and £16.6m, with the Stormont Executive agreeing to pick up 40 per cent.

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