All potential major road schemes are being assessed for possible inclusion in the Department’s 10-year forward planning schedule. The assessments are based on five criteria — integration, safety, economy, environment and accessibility — in accordance with the Department’s Northern Ireland transport policy statement ‘Moving Forward’ which was published in November 1998. The process takes into consideration the objectives of the Department’s new targeting social need policy, primarily under the accessibility criteria.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but I am concerned that if TSN is to mean anything, the imbalance of the past will have to be addressed. Road improvement schemes in many areas of the Six Counties have been neglected, particularly in my constituency of South Armagh. On some sections of the main route into the area two buses or lorries cannot pass each other without stopping. Surely that is an unacceptable state of affairs in the twenty-first century. Will the Minister assure us that TSN will be applied to address the imbalance of previous decades when road improvement schemes were completely neglected?
The preface to the Department’s New TSN action plan states
"It is generally accepted that distance from centres of economic activity contributes to increased social need. Roads Service may be able to contribute to reducing peripherality through major capital schemes. However, the impact on overall social need is influenced by a combination of factors and, therefore, the specific contribution of road schemes cannot easily be determined. The Department has consulted widely including a number of district councils on the development of an appraisals framework to prioritise programmes for capital works. New TSN principles will be incorporated in the assessment criteria. The potential for all schemes to contribute further to improving conditions in areas defined as disadvantaged is also being examined."
Does the Minister accept that his announcement last week on major road improvements, including the Toome bypass, which is in an area of social need, has again exposed his party’s "all perks and no work" attitude to ministerial office? Will he assure the Assembly, and the people of Northern Ireland, that the next major announcement by him, or his successor, will mean what it says, and will have more to do with targeting social need than party political need?
Despite some of his comments, I thank the Member for his contribution. I remind him that we do not enjoy any of the perks of office, as our Ministers and office-holders do not avail of official salaries. Perhaps the Member has been misinformed.
A briefing for the Regional Development Committee, of which the hon Member is the Deputy Chairperson, included the need for additional provision for road maintenance, and I highlighted once again my concern to seek some level of certainty in the capital programme funding over a three-year period. The funding that we have is such that some capital schemes may have to be deferred. All these schemes were announced subject to resources being available to allow them to commence.
Each Member, including the hon Member who posed the question, received a letter from my predecessor, dated 20 July, which indicated, not once but on five separate occasions, that that was the case. Last week at the Regional Development Committee I endeavoured to ensure that the necessary funding is in place so that capital works schemes can proceed as quickly as possible.
It is interesting that the Deputy Chairperson of the Committee does not read the letters that he receives.
Can the Minister confirm that in the current year’s proposals there is enough provision to start these roadworks? Can he also confirm that unless the budget is cut drastically by the Executive, there will be sufficient finance to complete these roads in years two and three?
I can confirm that the amount that has been allocated in year one is sufficient to allow me to proceed as planned, but if funding in years two and three were to be reduced, road schemes may be unable to proceed at the pace envisaged. My predecessor and I made bids for funding that would have allowed those schemes to proceed and be implemented, but it may be the case that that is not the position.
Because of the media speculation surrounding last week’s announcement at the Regional Development Committee, I am in the process of placing a number of documents in the Assembly Library for Members’ information, including the roads major works construction programme, the roads major works preparation pool, the presentation given by the divisional roads manager to the Regional Development Committee in Omagh on 15 November, and the press release that accompanied that presentation. I have done that in order to be helpful and to ensure that Members are aware that we need the funding in years two and three to ensure that these road schemes proceed. That is my intention, my goal and my objective.