'Decarbonisation of Road Transport in Northern Ireland': Committee Report

Part of Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:45 pm on 29th November 2021.

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Photo of Pádraig Delargy Pádraig Delargy Sinn Féin 3:45 pm, 29th November 2021

By all accounts, this report is a robust and cross-cutting piece of work. It cements what we already know about the need for a commitment to sustainable, green travel and about the impact that air pollution can have on health.

I will touch on three key areas of the report. The first is public transport. At the minute, public transport does not meet its purpose, particularly in my constituency of Derry. I have heard a lot of Members talking about rural constituencies; I want to talk about my experience in a more urban constituency. In Derry, there is a lack of bus lanes; buses and trains run at irregular times; and there is a lack of connecting services between the two. The Derry to Belfast line in particular does not meet demand at all. We have seen overcrowding, particularly in the past number of months with COVID. We really need to look at that. To start work in Belfast at 9.30 am, you have to leave Derry at 6.15 am. That is not feasible, and it is certainly not acceptable.

We need to improve the services that we have. We are willing and happy to work with the Minister to put in place, encourage and drive the changes that need to happen. We need to see the desire and commitment to deliver on the A5 and on the decarbonisation of the road network and, particularly, the rail network, because the rail network offers us an opportunity to open up the entire west. As Members well know, you can look at a map of the North and cut it in two: the west is completely neglected for rail. We really need to change that. It is time to open up the west and, in particular, to deliver on the commitment to an all-Ireland rail service by working with the Government in the South. The Wild Atlantic Way, for instance, is a massive tourist attraction, but it is not serviced at all by rail. As a Committee and as an Assembly, we need to take that on board and look at it, because there is a real opportunity to change it.

My second point is on active travel. As a primary-school teacher, I was always very aware of and involved in Walk to School Week. Although it is a fantastic initiative that highlights and emphasises the importance of active travel, it happens only once a year and is perhaps forgotten about during the rest of the year. A number of people talked about education on active travel, and that needs to be a core tenet. We need longer-term solutions, and cycle lanes in particular, across the North. It is fantastic to see them in Belfast and in certain areas of Derry that are more built up, but, as my colleague Liz said, we need to see them across the North so that everybody has access to them. Some €360 million is going towards active travel this year in the South, but there is only £13 million in the North. The comparison is stark. We need a solution for our families and our young people in order to build a framework and, indeed, a mindset for active travel in the future.

My last point — it has been mentioned a lot by other Members, so I will touch on it only briefly — is on electric vehicles. Members have mentioned what is unattractive about them; let us look at what we can do better and how we can work better, particularly with ESB on charging ports. I do not want to rehearse what has already been said about the need to develop and increase the number of ports across the North. ESB definitely has a lot of work to do, and I look forward, as part of the Committee, to meeting ESB and working together on the issue.

I commend the report.