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Investment paper sets out vision for days when ministers are long retired...

First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill with the new draft investment strategy setting out the Executive’s priorities for the next 30 years. Picture: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Gary McDonald Business Editor

A STRATEGY looking at future infrastructural investment in the north, which has opened for consultation,is vowing to take a "fresh approach" to spending on roads, schools, hospitals, housing and public transport.

Unlike previous blueprints, the latest Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland (ISNI) will set key objectives for infrastructure investment in the region up until 2050, when the world will be a different place.

For a start, current Stormont Executive heads Paul Givan and Michelle O'Neill, who launched the ambitious paper, will be long gone from office (they'll be 68 and 73 respectively). And who knows what the constitutional shape of this island might be?

But the paper - which they insist is "just a strategy, not a plan" - includes setting aside at least £1.6 billion of capital spending every year until 2015, with the money being sourced from "additional external sources beyond the bloc grant", including potentially loan finance.

At this stage - unsurprisingly given the proximity to an election - its authors are steering clear of mentioning possible tax increases such as water charging.

The strategy highlights the need government departments, arms-length bodies and the private sector working more collaboratively to ensure the region's infrastructure plans prioritise the needs of everyone.

It says: “This better reflects the increasingly interconnected way in which services need to be delivered. This approach will allow us to broaden our ambitions and maximise the benefits for our region and the people who live here.”

Typical of all such long-term strategies, the latest ISNI is heavy on buzzwords and light on actual project detail (deliberately so, according to its authors). Instead, it lists these five broad pillar areas:

:: Decarbonise the economy and society - by moving away from fossil fuels reducing carbon emissions, focusing on areas such as transport, energy, housing, agriculture and land use.

:: Strengthen essential services - this will focus on fficient transport networks, modern schools and healthcare facilities, social and intermediate housing, digital connectivity, accessible court facilities and good community infrastructure.

:: Enhance communities and places - towns and villages provide a focal point for employment, leisure and the services on which many depend. The strategy will look at significant intervention to help them regain and then retain their vibrancy, purpose and sense of place.

:: Build a strong, connected and competitive region - this will involve improving digital and physical connectivity internationally, nationally and locally.

:: Maximise the benefits from new technology and innovation - the public sector is still reliant on paper-based or ageing IT systems that are often fragmented and difficult to use, and the focus will be on using new and emerging technologies to make the region fairer, safer, more innovative, more productive and better connected.

Gerry McGinn, chief executive of the Strategic Investment Board, said: “Infrastructure is about more than bricks and mortar. Our roads connect our communities and our businesses, our hospitals improve our quality of life and our schools will inspire and equip the next generation to overcome the challenges of the future.

“This draft investment strategy is the framework that our future as a region and as a society will be built upon. It is therefore vital that we hear the views of more people in this consultation.”

The draft strategy is open for public consultation, and people have until April 20 to have their say.

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