Road Infrastructure: Mid Ulster

Adjournment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:15 pm on 4th October 2016.

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Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker 4:15 pm, 4th October 2016

The proposer of the topic will have 15 minutes. As this is Keith Buchanan's first opportunity to speak as a private Member, I remind the House that it is the convention that a maiden speech is made without interruption.

Photo of Keith Buchanan Keith Buchanan DUP

I appreciate the opportunity to address the House. It was a great pleasure to be elected for Mid Ulster, to the shock of some, I might add. I will go straight into the debate.

I welcome the opportunity to highlight the road infrastructure in my constituency and the need for additional resources to maintain and upgrade the network. Before I deal specifically with Mid Ulster, I welcome the rural roads initiative and the £10 million allocated to it. I have seen the evidence of that in my area and all over Mid Ulster. I thank the Minister for attending the debate.

In previous mandates, we all felt the brunt of budget cuts that resulted in grass verges not being cut, street lamps not being repaired, and cutbacks to essential road repair programmes. The previous Minister, my colleague Michelle McIlveen, began to rectify the problem by focusing on the appropriate use of her remaining budget when she took office and by ensuring that internal efficiencies were made. She reviewed her Department's budget lines and areas of expenditure to ensure that as much money as possible was available for high-priority activities, such as patching and street lighting maintenance. She also announced that, from the beginning of January 2016, an additional £3·2 million of resource funding and £2 million of capital funding was reprioritised for essential maintenance activities. That was good news for everyone, and it helped the local economy. I hope that the current Minister will continue to improve the infrastructure.

Every week, I receive complaints and enquiries from constituents about defects, grass cutting and general road maintenance. Our rural roads are essential links for our farmers, rural dwellers and those going to work or delivering their produce to market or to buyers. Those roads have a fundamental role to play in Northern Ireland's economy, and it is only right that specific attention is paid to maintaining them.

We must remember that a properly maintained road network helps to reduce potential fatalities or serious injuries on our roads. According to a report by PSNI statistics branch for 2015, the Mid Ulster policing area sadly accounted for the highest number of collision fatalities, with a total of nine killed in the district and a further 44 seriously injured. While I am not saying that poor roads maintenance was a factor in any of those sad fatalities, we must ensure that our roads are up to the highest possible standards. Most road traffic collision fatalities happen on rural roads, and, of the 74 road deaths in 2015, 57% — 42 — occurred on rural roads.

Rural dwellers do not have the same access to public transport. In Mid Ulster, we have no railway services, and buses do not serve many of our rural communities; at least not on a consistent enough basis. Access to those services can be a big challenge, and it is vital that these communities have a properly maintained road infrastructure. Sadly, the road infrastructure of Mid Ulster has seen the lowest capital investment in the western division in the last 10 financial years. The rural road network in Mid Ulster has had some improvements in recent time. The new Magherafelt bypass, which is due to open, I believe, on Thursday this week is a six-kilometre carriageway linking Castledawson roundabout with the Moneymore Road that is expected to carry 14,000 vehicles a day, thereby reducing traffic congestion in Magherafelt town centre. This significant investment will help to improve road safety, reduce congestion and improve journey times. The new road is welcome news, especially for those who use this route daily, and the DUP team of local councillors and I have welcomed this improvement and are committed to highlighting the need for further improvements to the road network.

I welcome the call for the much-needed Cookstown bypass as this would help to reduce travel times along the busy north to south, Coleraine to Keady A29 corridor. Unfortunately, sometimes it is quicker to travel between Dungannon and Belfast, a distance of 42 miles, rather than travelling the 20 miles between Dungannon and Magherafelt. The removal of through traffic from the town centre would assist in reducing the conflict between strategic and local traffic by approximately 10 minutes, thereby assisting in the reduction of congestion and in the risk of accidents. These benefits would be expected to improve the quality of life for residents and attract more visitors and shoppers to the historic town of Cookstown, improving our local economy.

This project should be part of an overall strategy to improve the key transport and link corridors across Northern Ireland and would demonstrate the need to rectify regional disparity and reverse decades of underinvestment in infrastructure west of the Bann. Sadly, the former Cookstown District Council area was consistently in the lowest areas of capital investment in the last 10 years. The vital A29 Cookstown bypass project would help the region significantly not only from a strategic perspective and at local level, but would provide vital jobs in the local construction industry. It had been hoped that this would have been delivered between 2013 and 2018. I welcome the Minister's earlier comments, and I look forward to the project being developed.

Forty per cent of world manufacturing of wet material machinery, for example stone-crushing and block-making equipment, is sourced and manufactured in Mid Ulster. For us to remain world-class providers and employers, the roads infrastructure needs to be up to world-class standard. Our rural roads network needs to be able to cope with the HGV vehicles that are needed in this industry. There is an ever-expanding agri-food industry in Mid Ulster. For example, Karro Food is the biggest pork slaughter facility in the United Kingdom. Our business parks need additional investment and an exceptional infrastructure network to allow this vital industry to grow and survive. These industries provide job opportunities in Mid Ulster, which has the fastest-growing and youngest population in Northern Ireland. All these world-class businesses provide employment opportunities to thousands and have continued to expand despite the poor roads.

I call upon the Minister to deliver for the people and businesses of Mid Ulster and improve our rural road infrastructure. From our newest attraction, the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy, Mid Ulster's own Titanic building, and the many historic sites around our beautiful constituency to the many excellent outdoor activities, there is something on offer to all, from the local to the international tourist. However, our rural road infrastructure must be fit for purpose. We need to develop the tourism industry of Mid Ulster and utilise our natural attractions from the Sperrin Mountains and the Lough Neagh shores to our many excellent forests, including Davagh forest. Only with an improved rural infrastructure and the proper maintaining of grass verges will we be able to show off our outstanding natural landscape to the maximum.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

I congratulate the Member on his opening speech, and I thank him for it. All other Members who are called to speak will now have up to eight minutes.

Photo of Sandra Overend Sandra Overend UUP

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this topic, and I thank the Member for raising it. I congratulate him on his maiden speech. I am pleased that the Minister is here to respond to the debate.

Mid Ulster is a hub of the manufacturing and engineering industries in Northern Ireland. Indeed, recent figures show that 27% of all of the people who are employed in Mid Ulster work in the manufacturing base. Therefore, it is important that the appropriate roads infrastructure is in place to allow our businesses to transport large and heavy products and machinery to customers across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and to the ports with ease in order to develop and grow vital export markets. At present, this is problematic, and I have even heard of goods being transported across the constituency of Mid Ulster and to the port of Warrenpoint because of heavy-load problems on the motorways. This was a surprise to hear, and I think that that is an issue that the Minister and his officials should continue to look into. I know that it was raised last year at some stage.

Many of our local businesses are big players on the European and global stage, so they would very much welcome improvements in the area. Indeed, road infrastructure projects provide employment to many of the construction sector businesses in my constituency, and so a strategic plan is very welcome for employment purposes.

I welcome the completion of the Magherafelt bypass, which will be officially opened this Thursday. That will be good news for the town of Magherafelt and should go a long way towards reducing its heavy traffic congestion. Improved road safety, speedier journeys and reduced congestion should all bring benefits to the people of Magherafelt and the surrounding area. It was fitting that it was an Ulster Unionist roads Minister who delivered on that project and cut the first sod, and I once again commend my colleague Danny Kennedy MLA for that. As his Assembly Private Secretary at that time, I felt it a privilege to be part of that historic first step.

The impending progression of the A6 project is also welcome, stretching from the end of the M22 to the Castledawson roundabout and on towards Londonderry. The A6 is a key transport route for Mid Ulster and beyond. Again, that is something that I was calling for long before I was an elected representative. The former roads Minister Danny Kennedy progressed that project as far as he could without the capital funds being made available for it, so it is pleasing to see that that work is coming to fruition. I have worked with landowners, farming businesses and officials to ensure that those who have concerns regarding the project have them addressed. It is important that the Minister and his officials work to resolve the outstanding issues so that no one is disproportionately or adversely affected by this project or any future infrastructure projects in Mid Ulster.

There is much that can and should be down to improve road infrastructure in Mid Ulster. Before the end of the previous mandate, on the Floor of the House I called for the then Minister for Regional Development to reprioritise the A29, make it a key transport corridor and make the necessary improvements to ensure that the road is fit to service the needs of the manufacturing base in Mid Ulster, which, as we previously touched on, is continuously growing and developing. I repeat that call to the current Minister and ask that he consider upgrading the A29, which is currently deemed a link corridor, to a key transport corridor in his future priorities. A bypass was first proposed almost 40 years ago, and, despite a preferred route for the road being announced in 2010, the proposal remains on the shelf. I urge the Minister to revisit the plans, which, again, would bring tangible benefits to local residents, businesses and commuters.

With the imminent completion of the Magherafelt bypass, many people have predicted that the next travel bottleneck will be in the village of Moneymore. With my constituency office located there, I am well aware of the levels of traffic that pass through there daily. The congestion on the main streets and the parking are issues. I urge the Minister to look at those considerations in the future.

Improvements such as those outlined would not only help businesses in Mid Ulster but create a better flow of traffic for all road users, for those living in the towns affected as well as those coming to the constituency on business, to visit friends or relatives, for tourism, as the proposer mentioned, and to shop in our local towns and villages.

Since Madam Principal Deputy Speaker has given me a bit of extra time, I want to raise another couple of issues that I might have mentioned to the Minister during topical questions today. We talked about the A29 and the possibility of having overtaking lanes and slow lanes on it. The A29 is a key transport corridor, and the Minister recognises that it leads from Coleraine right through to Armagh and is very important. There is also the matter of traffic speed in some of the local villages. I ask the Minister to look specifically at the village of Desertmartin. Previous Ministers installed some measures to slow traffic coming into that village, but it remains a concern. I would be interested to talk to the Minister about that village with a view to looking at other measures that could be brought in. There are speeding problems in other villages across Mid Ulster too — I could name Castledawson — but this speech could quickly turn into a list of wishes to the Minister.

As well as capital projects, it is essential that our local roads are well maintained. Roads issues are frequently raised by constituents, who rightly expect us to lobby Transport NI and hold the Minister to account. It is vital that a long-term strategic approach and a degree of planning are adopted. The Sherrigrim Road near Cookstown is an example of a road along boggy lands. It is a feature of many roads across this rural constituency that they can quickly become wavy. They are then unsafe for heavy vehicles, lorries and agricultural vehicles. We need to really plan ahead and not just cover over the cracks so that, if funding is available, we can improve the foundations of those roads for the longer term.

The road network across Mid Ulster continues to require significant investment in new infrastructure schemes and to address historical maintenance problems. The Minister will not be surprised to hear that I will continue to lobby him to ensure that the entire area receives a fair share of funding for new projects as well as ongoing road maintenance.

Photo of Ian Milne Ian Milne Sinn Féin 5:15 pm, 4th October 2016

Before I get into my prepared piece, I congratulate Keith Buchanan on his maiden speech and wish him well for his time ahead in the Assembly. I also thank him for bringing this Adjournment debate on infrastructure in Mid Ulster to the Floor.

I regularly meet local officials on matters of road maintenance and safety and want to state my appreciation of their time and effort. There can be no substitute for meeting on-site to get a proper understanding of the situation and the impact that it has. It is always refreshing when problems are approached with a can-do attitude.

Travelling daily throughout the constituency, I am well aware of the state of our road network, particularly rural roads such as the Five Mile Straight, with its collapsing verges and the large number of potholes. The Member who spoke previously talked about waves: my experience of that road is that you would be excused for thinking that you were in a small boat on a rough and stormy sea. That is just one example of the results of years of neglect and historical underinvestment west of the Bann. The decision in the previous mandate to reduce spending on street lighting, verge cutting and maintenance on rural roads is well evidenced the length and breadth of the constituency, and it will take substantial investment to catch up again.

Like many Members, my office regularly deals with constituents' queries regarding long overdue repairs and the resultant damage to vehicles and, during the winter months, issues of lighting, gritting and flooding. Thankfully we are beginning to see progress. I commend the Infrastructure Minister, Chris Hazzard, for his commitment to addressing the underinvestment. He has already announced a £10 million road improvement package that will target around 1,000 rural roads across the North. We have also had confirmation that he will invest £18·8 million on road schemes in the Mid Ulster council area. That is all very welcome. Over the last few months, we have heard announcements of a £250,000 bridge strengthening and widening project at Milltown Bridge in Maghera; a £300,000 major carriageway and hard shoulder surfacing scheme on the Glenshane Road; the A6 Randalstown to Castledawson dualling project, which is currently on hold pending the outcome of a judicial review but is long awaited by 18,000 users per day; and the A31 Magherafelt bypass scheme, which will open on Thursday.

Of course, there is much still to be done. I have already brought to the Minister's attention issues such as the need, as other Members have said, for a bypass for Cookstown and Moneymore; the upgrading of the A29, which is the main corridor through Mid Ulster; and an increase in capital spend for new lighting projects.

I am well aware, however, that there will always be a gap between what needs to be done and what the budget allows for. Continued Tory austerity and the prospect of leaving the EU will have a serious impact on the funding that might be available for infrastructure projects such as those outlined. I stress the need for continued investment to support business and grow our local economy. I am confident that the Minister, given his announcements thus far, will not forget or neglect constituencies such as Mid Ulster in the manner previously seen.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Deputy Speaker

I take the opportunity to thank Mr Buchanan for bringing up this issue and making it the subject of his maiden speech. This is something that is very dear to those of us who have represented the area for quite a considerable time. Rural roads and rural infrastructure are crucially important to not only the social and educational development of our constituencies but their economic development. It provides us with the opportunity to debate roads infrastructure in Mid Ulster.

I begin my remarks by acknowledging the progress that has been made in what has long been a neglected area of the North through investment in infrastructure. Indeed, it is the same with investment in other things but especially in infrastructure. The last significant project to be completed in Mid Ulster was the Toome bypass, which was opened in 2004. That interim measure still awaits the completion of the A6 dualling from Castledawson to Randalstown to be fully effective. I welcome the recent movement on the A6 project. Securing funding has proven to be a major stumbling block for much-needed infrastructure projects, and we have had impending or threatening court actions around the place, but it is hoped that a satisfactory resolution can be found quickly to the objections to the Minister's preferred route.

I also welcome the progress on the Magherafelt bypass. That is a project that has been around for longer than some Members, I have to say, so I welcome that it is finally nearing completion and look forward to welcoming the Minister to the constituency on Thursday to do the dutiful and cut the ribbon on the road. It will provide a welcome respite for the town and its residents from the many heavy goods vehicles that have been forced to negotiate the Castledawson Road, up Broad Street and around the Diamond for many years.

As chair of the Assembly's all-party group on construction, as well as a representative of the people of Mid Ulster, I welcome these projects, the jobs they bring and the economic boost and support for economic development they provide within the constituency. However welcome those developments are, and they are to be welcomed, they represent choices made by the Minister and the Executive. The Executive prioritise high-profile schemes like the A6 and A5. Another major town in the constituency, Cookstown, was referred to. I was on Cookstown council from 1993 to 2006, and the bypass came up year after year after year after year. Perhaps the Minister could see fit to do something about that.

Mrs Overend rightly referred to something that will occur now. As a consequence of good and welcome progress on the Magherafelt bypass, the traffic will now move that much quicker to Moneymore and create a very substantial bottleneck in Moneymore, which is already quite pressurised with traffic at particular times of the day. That will inevitably continue. I do not know what sort of measures can be taken or whether the engineers within the Department have been projecting ahead to see how best they can make sure that, in alleviating one problem, another is not bunged into Moneymore. It is more work and is work we would like to see done. I am just flagging that up for the Minister's attention if he is not already aware of it.

The project in Cookstown has been around for almost as long as the Magherafelt bypass. I have an office in Cookstown and am in Cookstown frequently, and anybody who watches the traffic as it uses the unofficial bypass around Cookstown, the Westland Road, will know it can be really chock-a-block at most times of the day, particularly in the morning and at about 5.00 pm or 6.00 pm. It is incredible.

It makes the case for a decent bypass like the one in Magherafelt. After many years in gestation, it has been parked indefinitely. I welcome progress where it has been made, but we need to ask again for help with economic and social development in the constituency to make sure that we have a proper road network.

It has become standard, when Ministers are criticised for what are political decisions, that they complain of cuts to their budgets or to the block grant. It is the responsibility of the Executive to make the case to the Treasury for sufficient funding, and it is the responsibility of individual Ministers to make the case for sufficient funds to the Executive. It has been rumoured that some sort of infrastructural funding is likely to be announced via Westminster. I hope that, if it comes, the Minister will pitch hard for that to happen and for a good slice of the action to come to the North; I have every confidence in your ability to do so. That is what it is to be in government.

For our part, the SDLP has repeatedly proposed alternative sources of funding for necessary investment in infrastructure. We have done so in the past and will do so again. That said, matters will inevitably become more complicated — I am sure that the Minister has done a scoping exercise in his Department — if the Executive allow Northern Ireland to be dragged out of the EU against the will of the overwhelming majority of the people of the North. Last month, I believe, the Minister quoted to the Assembly a loss of infrastructure funding of £300 million to £400 million in the event of a Brexit. It will not be enough for the Minister or his party to throw up their hands in outrage if that loss of funding is allowed to materialise. I have outlined that it will be a challenge, but it is the Executive's responsibility to prevent and, hopefully, argue the case for the North to the Exchequer in Westminster.

Finally, to return to the subject, the Assembly recently debated an SDLP motion on the road structural maintenance budget, which is often neglected but is, in many ways, more important than the headline-grabbing, high-profile schemes. Maintenance of the road network in a rural constituency like Mid Ulster is vital to rural communities and the rural economy. I will not repeat the arguments that the Chamber heard during that debate, but I am sure that all Members who represent and, indeed, live in those rural communities will realise that, on occasion, you simply cannot go anywhere. One pothole can trigger a series of emails from constituents who have to live on the affected road. They are also entitled to a decent road surface and network in their area, particularly in areas such as ours where there are pretty densely populated rural areas.

The problems created by not addressing the road maintenance budget deficit and by the absence of sufficient yearly funding simply to maintain the existing roads network adequately are most particularly experienced in rural constituencies like Mid Ulster. The rural road network has been starved of investment for a long, long time; I will not for one second lump that at the door of the Minister. There has been historical discrimination in some cases and a subsequent neglect of our rural areas. I know that the Minister has allocated funding for the repair of rural roads this year — Mr Milne mentioned the £10 million — but, from speaking to engineers, I know that it is estimated that £130 million would be required to bring the rural road network up to at least a reasonable standard. Over the past year, the number of claims made by drivers for damage caused by potholes on the roads —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker 5:30 pm, 4th October 2016

Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Deputy Speaker

— has more than doubled. I conclude with that. I thank the Member for securing the debate.

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

I take the opportunity to thank the Member for securing the debate and wish him well in his time as a Member. I also welcome the opportunity to speak on the issue, which is important to the people of Mid Ulster.

As Minister for Infrastructure, I, along with my Executive colleagues, work hard to support and drive economic recovery across all parts of the North, and I am particularly keen to redress the infrastructure deficit west of the Bann. The debate rightly highlights the importance of transport infrastructure, which, in the North, is very road-oriented, be it bus-based public transport, freight, commuting, leisure travel or cycling.

My Department is taking forward a balanced programme of improvements to the strategic road network that will make a significant difference to all communities in the North and greatly benefit the wider economy. Recent levels of funding have allowed the Department to advance a number of schemes through the various development stages to construction, including a number in the Mid Ulster area.

I am delighted to say that the construction of the £35 million A31 Magherafelt bypass is now substantially complete. The scheme comprises approximately 6 kilometres of two-plus-one carriageway, to facilitate overtaking, and single carriageway extending from the A31 Moneymore Road to the Castledawson roundabout on the A6. I look forward to officially opening this scheme later this week.

The A6 Derry to Belfast corridor is also of strategic economic importance, providing an essential road link between the Belfast metropolitan area and the north-west. My Department is progressing two separate projects on the A6 route to improve connectivity: the Derry to Dungiven and Randalstown to Castledawson dualling schemes, the latter, of course, being in the Mid Ulster area.

The Randalstown to Castledawson scheme comprises two distinct sections of dual carriageway located either side of the A6 Toome bypass: a 7·3 kilometre section from the end of the M22 to the eastern end of the Toome bypass; and a 7·4 kilometre section from the western end of the Toome bypass to the existing A6 Castledawson roundabout, so linking to the new Magherafelt bypass. In August, I was delighted to announce my decision to proceed with this substantial £160 million scheme. However, on 27 September 2016, papers were lodged with the High Court to apply for leave for a judicial review in relation to the project. While I am disappointed that a scheme set to benefit some 18,000 vehicles and their passengers every day has been challenged, with any project of this scale there is always the possibility of a legal challenge from those who are dissatisfied with the Department’s proposals. It is too early to determine the impact on the progression of the scheme and any knock-on delay to the commencement of construction, which had been anticipated to be later this month.

The preferred route for the A29 Cookstown bypass was announced in 2010. The scheme entails the construction of approximately 4 kilometres of new single carriageway from the Dungannon Road roundabout south of Cookstown to a proposed new roundabout on the Moneymore Road at the north of the town. The scheme will also include sections of two-plus-one and differential acceleration lanes to facilitate safe overtaking opportunities. Development of this significant project had been deferred owing to financial constraints, but, as Minister, I am keen for my Department to progress the scheme. I am engaging with officials about progression to the next stage, the publication of the draft statutory orders and environmental statement.

The southern section of the A5 western transport corridor between Ballygawley and the border at Aughnacloy is also in the Mid Ulster area. Following the public consultation on the new draft statutory orders and environmental statement, a public inquiry into the A5 scheme was announced, and this remains on schedule to open on 4 October 2016.

A 3·4km bypass of Fivemiletown identified in the strategic road improvement programme will alleviate congestion in the town. Progression of this scheme is subject to future budgetary settlements.

The upcoming revision of the regional strategic transportation network transport plan and the development of local transport plans in conjunction with councils’ local development plans provide a good opportunity to refresh the strategic roads improvement programme in line with the latest technical evidence, local development pressures and the Programme for Government priorities of economic growth and social equality. This may provide my Department with an opportunity to relook at scheme prioritisation and, indeed, at new schemes.

Up to now I have spoken about new and proposed schemes. I now want to turn to maintenance of the existing network. Maintaining our roads and footways is essential to the social and economic well-being of the North and continues to be one of my Department's highest priorities. I am pleased to say that additional capital funding was prioritised by the Executive for road maintenance as part of June monitoring. As a result, and in recognition of the particular deterioration in rural roads, in June I announced a £10 million rural roads initiative to target maintenance measures at around 1,000 locations. I am pleased to say that work on those schemes is now well under way and that about one third of the identified roads have been dealt with.

The current structural maintenance budget for the Mid Ulster District Council area is some £8 million, including approximately £1·5 million allocated as part of the rural roads initiative. This will see a significant number of smaller schemes delivered on the local road network across the council area.

In addition, in the Mid Ulster District Council area, my Department has delivered an extensive resurfacing programme, including schemes on the A6 Glenshane Road; the A4 Ballagh Road, Clogher; and the A29 Northland Row, Dungannon, as well as surface dressing 1·1 million square metres of road across the area.

Members will be aware that the Department continues to face budgetary pressures on resource funding for day-to-day road maintenance services. Thankfully, an additional £5 million was allocated as part of June monitoring to enhance road maintenance activities, such as pothole repairs and grass cutting.

I now want to briefly provide a more strategic overview of how my previous comments extend into the bigger picture. Members will be aware that Departments have been working on the delivery plans associated with the Programme for Government. My Department is no exception.

A key Programme for Government indicator that I am leading on is:

"to improve transport connections for people, goods and services".

Over the summer, my officials engaged with other Departments and a wide range of representatives from all sectors to develop an action plan to help to deliver this indicator. The delivery plan contains my initiatives for a generational programme of investment and change over a number of budgetary periods. I have ensured that my delivery plans for this indicator, and my other key indicator:

"to increase the use of public transport", are focused on reducing the infrastructure deficit, particularly in the west, in order to mitigate key barriers to balanced regional growth.

Excellent transport infrastructure is a prerequisite for growing the local economy and attracting inward investment; it enables communities to access jobs, education and leisure opportunities and allows businesses to connect to their markets. I am therefore determined to enhance connectivity and to increase transport capacity across the region.

My delivery plans contain a number of new initiatives in addition to the existing flagship road-dualling schemes that will also positively impact on the Mid Ulster region, including looking at the potential for more freestanding bypasses of towns in order to address pinch points on the roads network. In addition, work is ongoing to carry out feasibility studies on improvements to the A29 Dungannon to Cookstown road and the potential to extend the rail network to Dungannon.

Of course, all this activity depends on the appropriate resources being made available. My Department has a capital budget of some £387 million, the largest of all the Departments. However, as I have explained in previous debates, this is required to provide funding across a wide range of functions for which I have responsibility. These include not only roads but water and waste water, public transport, flood alleviation and waterways, all of which could utilise further funding if it were available. As such, I have to prioritise funding across all my Department's functions in order to achieve a balanced outcome within the available resources.

Given the budget allocation available to me, additional capital for one area, such as roads, means that there is less available for other functions. However, I continue to make the case for increasing my Department's budget, both through the in-year monitoring process for this year and as part of the Executive's Budget 2016 process. The role of roads, public transport and water infrastructure is vital in improving social inclusion and underpinning the region's economic growth.

To conclude, I, as Minister, along with all Members, fully recognise the need to invest in world-class infrastructure if we are to realise our shared ambition of transforming our economy and society. I therefore call on the support of all Members, particularly members of the Committee for Infrastructure, to do all that they can to ensure that my Department receives the resources that it requires to provide a better infrastructure, from which we can all benefit.

Turning specifically to a couple of points that were raised, Mrs Overend raised the issue of slowing traffic as it comes through villages and mentioned Desertmartin specifically. I would be more than happy to meet or correspond with you in future on that issue. There is no doubt that you are well aware of course that the PSNI

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Can the Minister bring his comments to a close?

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

— takes a lead role with regard to speed. Of course, we need to be more strategic as we go forward.

I am happy to draw my comments to a close with that.

Adjourned at 5.44 pm.