Belfast Grand Central Station

Oral Answers to Questions — Infrastructure – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 16 April 2024.

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Photo of Pat Sheehan Pat Sheehan Sinn Féin 2:00, 16 April 2024

2. Mr Sheehan asked the Minister for Infrastructure for his assessment of the benefits of the Belfast Grand Central station at Weavers Cross to Belfast. (AQO 280/22-27)

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

The construction of the new Belfast Grand Central station is progressing well, with the first phase due to be operational in the autumn. The new station, including the associated public realm works, will be fully completed by the end of 2025. When completed, Belfast Grand Central station will be the largest integrated transport facility on the island. It will double the number of rail and bus stands and will cater for around 20 million passengers per year. In comparison, the present station accommodates approximately 7 million passengers per year. The scale of the project means that, in advance of the opening, there will be some disruption to existing rail services and some road closures to accommodate the works required. Throughout that time, Translink will keep its customers updated, and Belfast will remain open for business. The new station will include the Enterprise service, which will bring cross-border passengers into the heart of the city via a new hourly service to increase our connections North and South. The new station will help transform public transport by improving connectivity to support a modern, confident vision for Belfast and will act as a gateway to the entire island of Ireland.

Photo of Pat Sheehan Pat Sheehan Sinn Féin

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as ucht a fhreagra.

[Translation: I thank the Minister for his answer.]

Will the Minister tell us how the new transport hub or new station — whatever it is called — will help get people out of their cars and on to public transport?

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

I thank the Member for his question. As part of the outline business case for the new station, it was forecast that bus and rail passengers would increase by 32% by 2030 compared with 2015. As passenger numbers rise, my Department will continue to keep the schedule of services under review as part of the review of Translink's performance under the public service agreement (PSA).

The revision of any schedule of services will need to consider the availability of funding and how best to increase the use of public transport at the time. The station, while planned a number of years ago, fits into the broader objectives of the Executive and, indeed, of the House in tackling the climate emergency. We will have a state-of-the-art station in the middle of Belfast that will allow passengers to travel in comfort not only in and out of Belfast but to other destinations.

Photo of Jonathan Buckley Jonathan Buckley DUP

Is the Minister in a position to outline the expected total cost of delivery of Belfast Grand Central station and to tell us whether there will be an anticipated or expected overspend?

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

The full business case was approved in November 2021 at a total cost of £295 million. The latest cost estimate is £340 million, which, as the Member will be aware, is £45 million higher. The vast majority of that cost increase is due to the extraordinary inflation that has impacted on all major capital projects. The project is due to be completed by quarter 4 of 2025, which is in line with the date indicated in the approved full business case.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

We are all excited about this development in South Belfast. When you visit it, the station is very impressive.

Minister, you mentioned connectivity: will you give us an insight into how the station will connect to the forthcoming south Belfast corridor for the Glider?

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

All transport service planners in the Belfast area are aware that the new station is opening and of the opportunities that it will provide. The other transport services — Glider, Metro and Ulsterbus — are all connected in some way or another to the new station in order to provide an integrated travel solution.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

Minister, I am hugely excited about Grand Central. I welcome its development and pay tribute to the work of the previous Minister, Nichola Mallon, as well as to you, for delivering it. Given that we hope to have the Euros at a newly built Casement Park in a few years' time, are you looking at having additional capacity to serve the Euros and at putting on extra services from Grand Central to Balmoral and Finaghy to allow passengers to alight there and go to the matches?

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

Such plans will be an operational matter for Translink, but I am aware, as is Translink, of the huge opportunities that the Euros afford us and the influx of people that that will bring into our city. We want to ensure that we have public transport solutions, whether people are coming into Belfast Grand Central station or using the Glider and Metro services that are also available. There will be connectivity and plans in place for that hugely beneficial event, both for Belfast and across the North.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

The Executive have made commitments to improve the visibility of the Irish language. Activists and campaigners cannot be expected to play whack-a-mole with every new building on a case-by-case basis. Will you give a commitment to ensuring that a directive is issued to Translink to implement bilingual signage at all transport centres, including Weavers Cross?

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

My understanding is that I do not have the authority to issue a directive. My officials and I have been engaging with Translink on the matter. There is an opportunity for this state-of-the-art railway station to have signage in all the languages that represent the communities that it serves. I have encouraged Translink to do that, but it is a decision for Translink.

I am reviewing my Department's Irish language policy and ensuring that it is in line with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the upcoming Identity and Language Act so that we lead the way on that. However, this goes back to many aspects of planning: we have to ensure from the outset that our services cater for all the communities that they are there for. Unfortunately, there was a missed opportunity at the start, but there is also an opportunity to catch up.