Rail Halt: Craigavon

Oral Answers to Questions — Infrastructure – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 26th April 2021.

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Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin 3:00 pm, 26th April 2021

3. Mr O'Dowd asked the Minister for Infrastructure whether a rail halt for central Craigavon will form part of the regional strategic transport network transport plan. (AQO 1935/17-22)

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for his question. It is an issue that he has raised with me on a number of occasions. As previously stated, my officials are developing a new suite of transport plans, and the regional strategic transport network transport plan, which is known as the RSTNTP, is the first in line for completion. That plan will set out future investment and improvement for our strategic transport networks by road, rail and bus and will reflect my commitment to improve connectivity for the benefit of our economy and communities across the North.

Travel by rail is something that I feel very passionately about, and I am ambitious about what we can do to deliver better rail connectivity. Since coming into office, I have been clear that my priority is addressing regional imbalance, better connecting communities and, importantly, ensuring that we shape our places around our people, for our people and with our people. On Wednesday 7 April, along with the Transport Minister, Eamon Ryan TD, I was delighted to announce an all-island strategic rail review that will allow us to consider our rail network across this island and how we can improve it for everyone. Officials are working together to progress the review, and, in addition, my intention is to put the strategic transport plan out for public consultation later this year.

I recognise the potential that additional halts on our rail network could provide for areas such as Craigavon. I encourage the Member, when he is responding to the consultation, to reflect his views so that we can consider them as we shape our rail services in particular.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister. I have raised the matter with her several times to keep it in her head when it comes to the report's conclusions. Will the Minister agree that, if the only outworkings of the Belfast to Dublin high-speed rail link are for the benefit of the Belfast-Dublin economic corridor — the most recent report published by her Department said that it will get people into Belfast or Dublin more quickly — we will not provide economic opportunities to people who live along the railway line and that will be a totally missed opportunity?

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I share the Member's analysis of that. We have had previous exchanges on transport as a key driver of regeneration in communities. Of course, when you want to expand rail, there is the reality of budgetary constraints as well. The wonderful thing about the all-island strategic rail review is that, yes, it is looking at enhancements to the existing rail network, but it is also looking at opportunities to expand and to see rail as the regeneration catalyst that it is. I am hopeful that, by bringing all those strands of work together, we can see better rail connectivity for communities right across the island.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

I join my Upper Bann colleague to promote the central area of Craigavon as a suitable location for a rail halt. I welcome the commitment by the Minister and Translink to the improvements at Lurgan railway station. However, Minister, there is a lack of integration between bus and rail services. The central area has a huge manufacturing base. What dialogue have you had with your Economy Minister colleague in the Executive about the integration of transport? What consultation or information is shared between Ministers on those matters?

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for her question. The regional strategic transport network plan, which I will be consulting on later in the year, is about looking at our road, bus and rail network up to 2035. That will provide an important opportunity for all of us to feed in to and shape that process. I am committed to working with all of my Executive colleagues as we try to deliver on our Programme for Government commitments. The Member is right to talk about the importance of transport corridors for economic growth and business links, and that is why I am very pleased that one of the strands of the all-island strategic rail review will be to look at rail connectivity to our international gateways, which are our ports and airports. We recognise the important role that transport corridors play in growing the economy and tackling the climate emergency.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Minister's answer to date has been focused on road, rail and bus. Will the Minister acknowledge that to have a successful integrated transport system, we also need to have effective park-and-ride schemes and a network of walking and cycling routes?

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I absolutely agree with the Member on that. I can see the conversion that is happening with Mr Beggs, which is great to see. In all seriousness, I say that park-and-rides are really important, which is why, as part of my blue-green fund, we are advancing a number of park-and-rides across Northern Ireland. The Member is right that it is about improving and strengthening our public transport network but that we have to encourage people to make that shift out of their private car into active travel and public transport. In order to do that, you have to give people choice. We need to make sure that we have safe active travel infrastructure for people and an inclusive, accessible and attractive public transport network. Recently, I was pleased to meet the Member and others at the all-party group on cycling to share some of the progress that my Department has made in that area. I very much appreciate the support from across the House in trying to progress that agenda.