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Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. In compliance with section 52 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, I wish to make the following report on the sixth North/South Ministerial Council transport sectoral format meeting at the Curran Court Hotel in Larne on Friday 3 April 2009.
The Executive were represented by the Minister of the Environment, Sammy Wilson MP MLA, and me. The Irish Government were represented by the Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey TD. The Council noted progress made since the last meeting, in May 2008, and welcomed the opportunity to meet to discuss opportunities for cross-border co-operation on strategic transport planning.
The Council discussed the latest position on the A5 north-west gateway to Aughnacloy and the A8 Belfast to Larne road projects and noted progress made to date. I advised the Council that development work was progressing well on both projects. In respect of the A5 project, I was pleased to report that I had announced the completion of the first significant milestone — the preliminary route corridor assessment — ahead of target on 7 November 2008. Public exhibitions that illustrated several potential routes within the preferred corridor were held during February 2009, with more than 3,000 people attending, including elected representatives and council officials.
Roads Service anticipates that the selection of the preferred route will be completed on target in mid-2009. I welcome the ongoing co-operation at the cross-border interfaces, particularly the Aughnacloy to Clontibret route. The Council also noted that the procurement process has commenced on the project, with a view to the appointment of contractors and designers in the autumn.
The next significant milestone will be the publication of the draft statutory orders, which are due to be published by late 2010. In the current economic climate, the Council noted the recent reassurance in relation to the £400 million contribution from the Irish Government and looked forward to seeing further advancement of this unprecedented scheme in the coming months.
I reported to the Council a similar position in relation to the A8 project. The scheme will provide 14 kilometres of dual carriageway between Belfast and Larne. I advised that delivery is anticipated on a similar time frame to that of the A5 and confirmed that the project has also achieved its first significant milestone — the preliminary route corridor assessment — ahead of target. The second key milestone — the preferred route — is also anticipated to be on target for mid-summer 2009. In addition, the procurement process is due to commence shortly.
The Council noted the report commissioned by Fermanagh District Council and Sligo County Council which analysed the need for upgrading the N16/A4 Belfast to Sligo route. I was pleased to report that extensive works are in progress to upgrade the A4 between Dungannon and Augher.
More than 20 kilometres of dual carriageway are being constructed between Dungannon and Ballygawley. A further four kilometres of widened two-plus-one single carriageway are being built between Ballygawley and Augher. My Department’s investment delivery plan for roads also includes proposals for bypasses of Enniskillen and Fivemiletown, which will further relieve congestion and bottlenecks on that route and enhance regional journey times. Consultants have been appointed to start development work on the Enniskillen bypass.
The North/South Ministerial Council also noted the publication of the Irish Department of Transport’s smarter travel policy. My Department is already progressing initiatives on sustainable transport and travel. I advised the Council that officials are proactively engaged on a sustainable transport and travel agenda and are progressing initiatives that underline the all-Ireland dimension. The Council also agreed to the ongoing work on a jointly-supported car-sharing website for the north-west region, with a tentative commencement date in autumn 2009.
Ministers reviewed progress on proposals for improving the Dublin-Belfast rail service and noted the findings from the work carried out by Iarnród Éireann and Northern Ireland Railways since the Council’s previous meeting. Ministers agreed that identifying the capital and revenue funding required to improve on the frequency of the Enterprise service remains an objective but in the knowledge that the financial position is likely to be difficult in the years ahead. They also agreed that in the meantime operating companies should examine the case for reconfiguring Enterprise trains to increase their reliability.
Ministers discussed the intention of the Irish Department of Transport to deal with freight issues in a more integrated way through, inter alia, preparing a specific strategy for the freight sector. The Council also noted that the Department for Regional Development will consider issues relating to freight in the review of the regional transportation strategy. It was agreed that the Department for Regional Development and the Department of Transport should work together to organise a freight forum in the latter part of 2009 involving North and South interests.
The Council noted and welcomed the continuing progress on the Irish Government’s proposals for restoring the cross-border bridges at Annaghroe and Knockaginney. It also acknowledged the excellent cross-border co-operation to date that has led to formal planning approval in both jurisdictions. Construction work will commence soon. Replacement of the bridges will enhance cross-border links and the social and economic well-being of the immediate areas. In relation to Narrow Water bridge, the Council noted that Louth County Council has completed significant work and is to undertake further appraisal of the proposed project prior to progression through the statutory processes.
I reminded the Council that my Department’s Roads Service has employed consultants who have undertaken a feasibility study for a Newry southern relief road to link the A2 Warrenpoint Road to the A1 just south of Newry. I was recently made aware of the findings of that study, and I welcome the continuing co-operation on the project between officials from Roads Service and Louth County Council.
The Council noted the studies carried out to date on the Ballynacarry bridge by Monaghan County Council. The ongoing appraisal for that bridge is expected to be completed in mid-2009, after which the authorities in the South will further consider the level of priority to attach to the project. Go raibh maith agat.