Stalled York Street Interchange project in Belfast has cost more than £7m so far

The York Street Interchange project, which has been indefinitely stalled, has cost £7.4 million to date
John Monaghan

A MAJOR motorway interchange project, which has been stalled indefinitely, has cost more than £7 million to date.

The York Street Interchange in Belfast has cost almost £750,000 every year since 2007, culminating in a total bill of £7.4m.

Last week Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard said that the plans had been put on hold due to uncertainty over EU funding in the wake of Brexit.

The £165m scheme was designed to ease congestion at the junctions of the M1, M2 and M3, which deal with an estimated 100,000 vehicles a day.

The biggest cost - £1.8m - was incurred in the 12 months from March 2015 which covered the period when a public inquiry into the proposals was heard in Belfast.

The inspector has yet to report on his findings into the public inquiry, although the department put out a public tender for contractors in the months following the inquiry.

A further breakdown of the fees was not provided by the minister, but it is understood that consultancy and planning fees as well as advertising for the scheme have all contributed to the multi-million pound cost.

The British government has said it will guarantee EU funding for any projects signed off before the UK leaves Europe.

It had been hoped that the EU would pay 40 per cent of the cost of the interchange, but the next EU funding call for major projects is not expected until 2018.

Mr Hazzard said last week: "I have to do what's best for the transport system as a whole. York Street is a priority for me, but I have assessed the funding that is now available to me in the context of what happened earlier this summer."

The Confederation of British Industry has described the project as "indispensable".

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt has called on the minister to clarify if his own department's engineers share his views on the project.

The Strangford MLA said: "£7.4 million has been spent on this project since 2007, so we should surely be in a position to proceed. Given this is the biggest single pressure point in the whole roads network, the argument is compelling and cannot be denied.

"It is not good enough for the minister to blame Brussels - he needs to ask his engineers for their professional judgment as to what the main road priorities should be. It is a simple question and it requires a simple answer."

The cost of the project was released in response to an Assembly question from SDLP North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon, who said the minister "needs to demonstrate" that all is being done to progress the scheme.

She said: "Rather than exhaust every avenue open to making this project happen, he puts it on the back burner, firstly citing Brexit as the excuse before shifting the blame to Executive finances.

"At the minute it looks like he has prematurely given up because it's not a political priority for his party."

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