Coleraine to Londonderry Line: Phase 2

Oral Answers to Questions — Regional Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 16th June 2015.

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Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton DUP 2:15 pm, 16th June 2015

4. Mr Easton asked the Minister for Regional Development to outline how he will redistribute funds from within his departmental budget to facilitate phase 2 of the Coleraine to Londonderry track renewal project. (AQO 8395/11-15)

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

My commitment to the Coleraine to Londonderry rail line has always been clear, and I have worked hard to ensure that the line has remained open. The project is a key Programme for Government commitment and is evidence of the Executive’s determination to invest in our rail network. It also signals our continuing commitment to invest in the north-west and improve connections and frequency of service between Belfast and Londonderry.

In November 2014, I commissioned an independent review of the project following concerns that the original cost estimate for the scheme was significantly underestimated. The outcome of the review provided me with the assurance to press on with the project. It confirmed that there might be limited interest in the signalling procurement due to the scale of railway investment being carried forward in Great Britain. Translink has now awarded the contract to Babcock, which is a company renowned for its engineering excellence.

The overall cost, at £46 million, is higher than originally envisaged but reflects the market that we are competing in. The profile of expenditure on the Coleraine to Londonderry project is such that there will be no additional budget requirement in this financial year. As you will be aware, budgets beyond 2015-16 have not yet been agreed. I will be prioritising this project in my capital planning for the next budget period to provide cover.

Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton DUP

I thank the Minister for his answer. As he knows, I am fully supportive of what he has done here.

This project is earmarked to happen over two financial years, and he has given a commitment on the funding for the first year. Can he give a commitment that, if the money is there, the funding will continue into the second financial year? There is a possibility that it could slip into a third financial year, so can he give a commitment that those two years will be covered?

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I thank the Member for his mild encouragement. I appreciate it. This is a priority not only for my Department and Translink but is an Executive commitment. I am not sure where he got the idea that it might slip into a third financial year. As he will know from previous statements that I have made, the works are due for completion by the end of next year, and I very much anticipate that that target can and will be met.

Obviously, whilst budgets are not set for next year, let alone this year — let us not even go there for this question — it is inconceivable to me that I would receive nothing. I know that sometimes I am Oliver Twist, in that I am always looking more, but to receive nothing would be jolly unfair. My expectation is that we will receive sufficient to ensure that Coleraine/Londonderry phase two is completed and paid for.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

May I add my congratulations to the Minister? Will he please tell the House that the £6 million additional is a mere drop in the ocean compared with the money that could not be spent on the A5 and was spent on the A8 and A2? Will he promise not to lose any sleep over the additional money that he has invested in our railways?

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I am grateful to the Member. I do not think that the notion of me losing sleep would appeal to any Member; therefore, I am comforted by his remarks. There have been issues in getting phase two under way, but we are now in a better position and are moving forward. We will have the work undertaken, begun and completed hopefully in time and in budget. I think it will benefit hugely the increasing numbers of people who want to use the rail service between not just Coleraine and Londonderry but Belfast and Londonderry. We have seen remarkable and astonishing figures in relation to that — an increase of 12% over the past year — so we are doing the right thing, and we will continue to work at it until it is satisfactorily and fully finished.

Photo of Leslie Cree Leslie Cree UUP

Someone once said that all politics is local. Can the Minister outline bus and rail investment in north Down?

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I am very grateful to the Member for his question, lest anybody think it was a plant.

In the past two years, over £240,000 has been directly invested on bus and rail in north Down. This year, some £1·5 million will be invested, including £1·1 million for Bangor park-and-ride. Additionally, this year around £5·6 million will be invested in a number of other projects across the wider bus and rail programmes, which will benefit north Down. I hope the Member draws comfort from that.