George Best Belfast City Airport: Railway Halt

Oral Answers to Questions — Infrastructure – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 18th October 2016.

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Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton DUP 2:45 pm, 18th October 2016

1. Mr Easton asked the Minister for Infrastructure to outline any plans for a proposed railway halt at the George Best Belfast City Airport. (AQO 503/16-21)

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

We are reliant on our airports and seaports to access key markets and destinations, whether that is for pleasure, business or education, or simply to visit families and friends. The connections to our airports and ports will be increasingly important in creating the conditions for prosperity and will be key to our ability to compete in a global, skills-based and innovative economy, not simply for markets but for investment and talent. The City Airport has an important role to play in providing that access and already has a significant market share of short-haul domestic services, aided by its accessibility to the city centre.

There are currently no plans to provide a new rail halt at George Best Belfast City Airport. My immediate railway priorities must be to maintain and improve passenger capacity and remove bottlenecks on the existing rail network. However, that does not preclude new halts where passenger demand justifies it and additional finance is obtainable.

I have started preparations for the development of a new Belfast metropolitan transport plan. The plan will provide an opportunity to consider the roles that private cars, trains, buses and taxis can all play in connecting Belfast City Airport. However, linking the airport more directly by rail may not necessarily be the best way to serve this important gateway in the shorter term, particularly as it is currently served by a very frequent, recently upgraded bus service to and from the city centre.

Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton DUP

I thank the Minister for his answer. Will he agree with me that the best way to attract foreign investment is to have the best transport infrastructure in place? Would a train halt outside the George Best Belfast City Airport not help to do that and increase passenger numbers?

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

It does not necessarily follow that, if you have a train halt, you will provide a better service for business and investment. A very successful bus service runs to and from the airport, and many investors who come in and out of the city use it. Indeed, I have used it. It is very reliable and a very welcome service for those who want to invest in the city and the region.

Photo of Alan Chambers Alan Chambers UUP

I ask the Minister whether there is a shuttle bus service from the Sydenham halt to the airport. If not, will he give consideration to introducing such a service as a short-term, interim measure?

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his question. As I understand it, the airport provides an on-demand shuttle bus service between the airport terminal and the railway halt at Sydenham.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

In his response to Mr Easton, the Minister outlined some of the immediate priorities for the Department for Infrastructure. Can he assure the House that one of those immediate priorities will be the delivery of the Belfast transport hub over the next five years?

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his question. The Belfast hub is a flagship project for the Executive. I look forward to working with Belfast City Council colleagues in delivering what I think will be a transformative project, not just for the city of Belfast but for the entirety of the North. It is key to developing our public transport network, and I very much look forward to doing all that I can in the years ahead.

There is no doubt that Brexit and the EU referendum result is a huge challenge. The Belfast transport hub is one project that would likely have benefited from up to 40% funding from the EU, and that is money that will now have to be found from elsewhere. It is a challenge that I am up for meeting, because, as I outlined to the Member, the project has a transformative effect.

Photo of Ian Milne Ian Milne Sinn Féin

What is the current position with the Department's transport plans?

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

As I stated previously, I am commencing work to refresh the full suite of my Department's transport plans.

Work on the regional strategic transport network transport plan will begin in the very near future. That will be followed by a series of local transport plans, including the Belfast metropolitan transport plan, which I mentioned earlier. The plans will be developed to coordinate with the delivery of local development plans. Local transport plans will be developed in my Department but working closely with council officials.

Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance

I go back to the issue of the airport. What discussions have there been with Translink and the airport about improving access, particularly to early flights, to enable interconnectivity for business travellers?

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for her question. It is probably better to ask Translink what discussions it has had with the City Airport. I point the Member in that direction.