Northern Ireland news

Nichola Mallon 'hoping to get movement' on one of Northern Ireland's biggest road schemes after taking up infrastructure role

Nichola Mallon speaking to the Irish News. Picture by Mark Marlow

NICHOLA Mallon said she is "hoping to get movement" on one of Northern Ireland's biggest road schemes after three years of Stormont "paralysis".

The SDLP deputy leader said the Derry-Dublin road upgrade would be a "big focus" during her tenure, while the Narrow Water Bridge was a project she believed "we need to get focused back on".

Among her responsibilities will be making decisions on significant planning applications and persistent underfunding of NI Water, while crucial infrastructure projects, including the York Street Interchange, upgrades to the A5 and A6 roads, will also fall into her in-tray.

With costs set to run into millions of pounds, Ms Mallon said she recognised there will be complex issues ahead.

"One of the challenges is that I am coming into post after paralysis for three years, so there is a backlog of issues and decisions that have to be taken," she said.

"Also coming into a situation where there has been significant under-investment in infrastructure, so there are some very pressing issues."

She said one of the biggest projects will be the A5, but she is "hoping to get movement on site as quickly as I can on that".

But with delays of around 10 years, she said she recognised it had been "very long in the process" and she could "understand a lot of people's frustrations with the delay in things".

"It is moving to public inquiry very shortly and I would hope that we would see some movement on that very soon," she said.

Ms Mallon also said the A6 road was "definitely there on my radar" as well as the York Street Interchange.

"There was a legal challenge around procurement and now there has to be a new procurement process, we are seeing slippage of time-lines there as well," she said.

"But certainly the Westlink is a problem, it's a huge issue for traffic congestion."

Narrow Water Bridge, linking counties Down and Louth, is another project to fall onto Ms Mallon's desk.

After planning permission was granted in 2012 and funding secured from the EU and governments on both sides of the border, the project was shelved in 2013 after it emerged costs had been significantly underestimated.

Despite an eleventh-hour bid to meet the shortfall, the withdrawal of EU funding, which led to Stormont pulling out, saw the proposal collapse.

But Ms Mallon said it was "something that we were pushing for".

"It really will enhance tourism in that region and it will also protect the natural environment - three very important tests," she said.

"What I would hope to do is review the business case on that and then begin a very proactive conversation with my ministerial counterpart in the south and with the Irish government.

"I understand that there have been minor works in the south to try and keep the application alive."

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