Nichola Mallon announces 'forward-looking' review of York Street Interchange scheme
A review of the York Street Interchange scheme in Belfast will examine how the project to tackle a major traffic bottleneck can be "future-proofed" and meet sustainability goals.
The scheme to replace traffic lights at the junction of York Street, the Westlink, M2 and M3 is set to cost up to £165m through the creation of underpasses and a bridge.
There have been calls for a review of the project to take into account the needs of residents in the historic area north of Belfast city centre.
Now infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon has announced the terms of reference for a review that will consider how best to proceed while considering issues including wellbeing, sustainable travel, creating "thriving liveable places and communities", and ensuring the scheme fits with policies such as the Belfast City Council Development Plan Strategy.
"I recognise the strategic importance of the York Street Interchange. Its inclusion in the New Decade, New Approach Agreement is a further indication of the significance of the project to our economic and societal wellbeing and I am determined to see it delivered," the SDLP minister said.
"In advance of the next stage of the scheme, and in line with good practice in relation to the development of major transport projects, I have commissioned a short, sharp external review designed to ensure an approach to the scheme that is future-proofed and forward looking."
Funding for the massive project was secured through the 2017 confidence and supply deal between the DUP and the Conservative Party but it has faced delays, including a successful legal challenge to the tendering process.
Ms Mallon said: "I am conscious that much of the development work was carried out several years ago and am keen to ensure that the scheme we move to procure is one capable not only of connecting people to opportunities but also of promoting sustainable travel, improving road safety and enhancing the north end of the city centre in a way that can benefit not only those who rely on the road but also those who live and work close to it."
News of the review was welcomed last night by infrastructure expert Wesley Johnston, who runs the website www.wesleyjohnston.com/roads/.
"Nichola Mallon has been clear from the beginning that she takes sustainability seriously. The York Street Interchange scheme is very vehicle-focussed and I believe there is scope for making the project happen while being more sympathetic to people who live in the area," he said.
"The ruling earlier this year on the planned runway at Heathrow has placed all major schemes like this at risk of legal issues relating to sustainability, and the scheme design for York Street Interchange is now a few years out of date. A review of this kind is therefore very welcome."