I am fully committed to the delivery of Belfast rapid transit, including not only the current phase, which connects east Belfast, west Belfast and Titanic Quarter via the city centre, but future extensions to the north and south of the city. I regard Belfast rapid transit as a transformational public transport project for the city. It represents a great opportunity for Belfast going forward and is a major decision for my Department in relation to the commitment of funding in support of an Executive priority.
I have a keen personal interest in Belfast rapid transit and recently visited some of the infrastructure that my Department is developing for the system, including the new 520-space park-and-ride facility at Dundonald and the ongoing works on the routes. The works have been well publicised, and details of the impacts on local traffic are available on my Department's Trafficwatch Northern Ireland website. The changes that the works will introduce and the changes that have already been introduced on completed sections of the routes will provide benefits for existing public transport in advance of Belfast rapid transit becoming operational. The procurement of the rapid transit vehicles is progressing well, and I hope to make a major announcement on that in the next few weeks. Phase 1 of the Belfast rapid transit system is scheduled to become operational in September 2018.
I thank the Minister for her answer, and I wish her all the best with the rest of her questions today. Does she agree with me that, in east Belfast, we should encourage commuters to use the Comber greenway as an additional route to the rapid transport scheme? Could the Minister outline any plans that she has to improve and enhance the Comber greenway?
I thank the Member for his best wishes for today and for his question. I agree with him on the Comber greenway. Some may say that I am slightly biased given that it links our constituencies, but I believe that it is one of the best examples of greenway infrastructure in Northern Ireland. I am keen to explore how it can be improved to encourage greater use for commuting and, indeed, for wider reasons, including health and well-being. My Department is working on a scheme to improve the linkages to Belfast city centre, but I also want to see better access to the greenway provided at the Comber end, particularly linking into Comber town and eventually into Newtownards. That would allow for greater numbers of people to enjoy a safe cycling and walking route. That would be for commuters and leisure users. If Departments and councils work together, we have an opportunity to develop Comber greenway into a world-class facility.
I thank the Minister for her answers so far. You mentioned that there had been progress on procurement, but are you confident that the revised deadline of 2017 will be met for the vehicles to arrive fully assembled? Is there potential for that new deadline to slip?
I thank the Member for her question. I understand that that is no longer an issue and that they should be in place. The procurement process commenced in September 2014, and tenders were returned on 1 May this year. Those have been assessed, and, as I said, there will be an announcement in the next few weeks. That was part of the project assessment review, and we are confident that it is on track to be delivered on time.